A Crash Course in the Textual Discussion

Introduction

When I first started learning about the textual variants in my Bible, I had a great number of misconceptions about textual criticism. I thought myself rather educated on the matter because I had read the KJV Only Controversy twice and had spent hours upon hours watching the Dividing Line. Yet, when it came down to actually understanding anything at all about the matter, I realized I didn’t know anything. Even though I knew a lot of text-critical jargon, and could employ that jargon, much of the arguments I had learned were factually incorrect or misinformed. A comment on my YouTube channel earlier today demonstrated to me that many others are in the same boat I was in. 

The fact is,I couldn’t tell you why the Papyri were significant, or even how many Papyri were extant and what sections of the Bible they included. I couldn’t even name a proper textual scholar, except for maybe Bart Ehrman, but I thought he was just an angry atheist. I had heard that the CBGM was going to get us to a very early text form, but I couldn’t explain how or if that text was reliable. I knew that textual criticism was changing, but again, I didn’t know what those changes were or how they affected my Bible. There are a lot of downsides to getting your information from one or two sources, especially if those sources are simply interpreters of textual scholarship and not textual scholars themselves. The only thing that I had really adopted from the sources I had interacted with was confidence that I was on the right side of things, without really knowing why. I developed a list of questions that I wish somebody had asked me before I adopted the axioms of the Modern Critical Text, and perhaps they will be helpful for my reader.

  1. How did the Papyri finds impact the effort of textual scholarship?
  2. Is the concept of “text-type” a driving factor in the current effort of textual scholarship? 
  3. Which manuscripts are primarily used as a “base text” of the modern critical text as it is represented in the NA27 and 28? 
  4. What is the Editio Critica Maior (ECM)?
  5. Which textual scholars are involved in creating the Editio Critica Maior (ECM)? 
  6. What is the Initial Text, and how is it different than the Original?
  7. What is the difference materially between the Received Text and the Modern Critical Text?
  8. What is the CBGM, and how is it impacting modern Greek texts and Bible translations? 
  9. Which scholars are contributing to the current effort of textual scholarship, and what are their thoughts on the CBGM and ECM? 
  10. What do the scholars who are editing the modern Greek New Testament as it is represented in the Nestle-Aland/UBS platform think of the text they are creating? 
  11. What is the TR?

This “quiz” of sorts is a good litmus test as to whether or not you are up to date on the current trends in textual criticism. 

Answer Key

  1. The Papyri, while initially exciting, did not yield the kind of fruit that many would have hoped. In the first place, they disproved Hort’s theory that Codex Vaticanus was earliest text, because the Papyri included readings that were not extant in the Alexandrian manuscripts, which were called “Earliest and Best” all throughout the 20th century and even still today by some. This means that the Papyri do not vindicate the Alexandrian text form as “earliest”, and in fact, they prove that there were other “text forms” circulating at the same time. While the Papyri may be helpful in establishing that the Bible existed prior to the fourth century, every single Christian, in theory at least, believes this to be true regardless of the Papyri. Christian apologetics were done successfully well before the discovery of the Papyri. The Christian faith is one which believes that the eternal Logos became flesh in the first century, lived a perfect life, died on a Roman cross, was dead for three days, rose again on the third day, appeared to a group of disciples and a multitude of others, then ascended to the right hand of the Father. This is established without the Papyri, as the Bible is not established based on the Papyri. Further, there are less than 150 Papyri manuscripts, and many of them are scraps. We could not construct a whole New Testament with the Papyri manuscripts. So while the Papyri may to some serve some sort of apologetic purpose, their value as it pertains to actually creating a Greek New Testament is much less significant than other later New Testament data. 
  1. Due to the pre-genealogical coherence component of the CBGM, the concept of text-types has largely been abandoned by textual scholars, except for perhaps the Byzantine text-type, which is largely uniform. Due to algorithmic analysis driven by the power of electrical computing,  modern critical methods have demonstrated that the manuscripts formerly classed in the Alexandrian, Western, and Cesarean text families do not share enough statistical similarity to be properly called a text-family. Further, the current text-critical scholars have adopted a different method, which focuses primarily on evaluating individual verses, or readings, rather than manuscripts as a whole. So not only are the manuscripts formerly classed into the Alexandrian, Western, and Cesarean text families not families, the concept of text families is not necessarily being used in the current methodology. 
  1. The two manuscripts which serve as a “base-text” for the NA/UBS platform are Codex Vaticanus (B), and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph). Significant variations between the Received Text and the Modern Critical Text are typically the result of prioritization of these two manuscripts over and above the readings found in the majority of manuscripts or other manuscripts. This is shifting as the concept of text-types is being retired, but the text as it exists in modern Bibles generally reflects the text form of just two manuscripts. As the CBGM is implemented, this may cause certain Alexandrian readings to be rejected, but as it stands, modern Greek Texts and Bibles heavily favor the two manuscripts mentioned above. These two manuscripts do not belong in the same family, which is to say that they likely do not share one common ancestor or ancestors. It is possible that perhaps that they share a cousin manuscript, but even that is speculative. 
  1. The Editio Critica Maior (ECM) is a documented history of the Greek New Testament up to about 1,000AD which considers Greek manuscripts, translations, and ancient citations of the New Testament. The ECM also provides information on the development of variants according to the analysis of the editors. The first edition was published in 1997 and is slated to be finished by 2030. The ECM is not necessarily a Greek New Testament per se, but rather a history of how the text is said to have evolved in the first 1,000 years of the church. This means that it excludes copies made from manuscripts after 1,000AD that predate 1000AD. For example, if a manuscript was copied in 1300AD from a manuscript created in 500AD, the readings from the 1300AD copy will not be considered, despite preserving very old readings. The main text printed in the ECM contains the readings which are said to be the earliest, though there are many places where the editors of the ECM are split in determining which reading came first. Due to these split readings, the ECM functionally serves as a dataset, which the user can individually evaluate to select which readings they believe to be the earliest. A current weakness of the ECM is that it does not consider all of the extant data, and it is yet to be seen if the final product in 2030 will incorporate all extant New Testament witnesses. As it stands, it is an incomplete history of the New Testament, despite being the largest critical edition produced to date. 
  1. It is difficult to find all of the men and women working on the ECM, but some of the scholars who have worked on, or are working on the ECM are Holger Strutwolf, DC Parker, and Klaus Wachtel. The Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Munster is overall responsible for the project. The ECM is supported by the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. 
  1. The conversation of the Original text vs. the Initial Text is still one being hotly debated amongst textual scholars, but Dr. Peter Gurry defines it as, “The ECM editor’s own reconstructed text that, taken as a whole, represents the hypothetical witness from which all the extant witnesses derive. This hypothetical witness is designated A in the CBGM, from the German Ausgangstext, which could be translated as “source text” or “starting text.” The relationship of the initial text to the author’s original text needs to be decided for each corpus and by each editor; it cannot be assumed” (Peter Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 136). Simply put, the Initial Text is the “as far back as we can go text.” It is up to the editor, or perhaps the Bible reader, whether or not that Initial Text represents what the writers of the Bible actually wrote. It is important to keep in mind that the Initial Text is likely to favor texts from a particular region. That is to say, that the Initial Text produced by scholars is only one of many potential Initial Texts. Despite the fact that many are optimistic regarding the Initial Text, the fact stands that there are many readings in the ECM which the editors are split on which reading is initial. That means there is no consensus on what the Initial Text is, or what it will be. How this will be determined has yet to be seen. I comment on the discussion here and here
  1. The difference between the Received Text (TR) and the Modern Critical Text (MCT) is significant. The MCT is at least 26 verses shorter, as it excludes the ending of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20), the Pericope Adulterae (Jn. 7:53-8:11), the Comma Johanneum (1 Jn. 5:7), John 5:4, Acts 8:37, and Romans 16:24. There are also a number of places where the readings are different, such as John 1:18, and 1 Tim. 3:16. There are also places in the MCT like 2 Peter 3:10 where the readings has the opposite meaning as the TR. Many advocates of the MCT are quick to point out that the TR does not have Greek manuscript support for Revelation 16:5, but the MCT also has readings that do not have Greek manuscript support, like 2 Peter 3:10, mentioned above. This does not mean that the verses cannot be supported, just that it is rather hypocritical that many MCT advocates demand extant manuscript support when there were manuscripts available at one time that may have had a reading. In many of the doctrinally significant places where the MCT and TR differ, the TR contains readings found in the majority of manuscripts, whereas the MCT represents a small minority, and in some places, just two manuscripts (Mk. 16:9-20). In other places, the TR contains minority readings, though I argue that these minority readings can be substantiated by the consensus of commentaries, theological works, and Bible translations throughout the history of the church. In any case, the amount of variants in the within the TR tradition is minute compared to the amount of variants that must be reconciled within the MCT tradition. 
  1. The Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) is “a method that (1) uses a set of computer tools (2) based in a new way of relating manuscript texts that is (3) designed to help us understand the origin and history of the New Testament Text” (ibid. 3). The CBGM uses statistical comparison to determine how closely related two witnesses are to each other, and then text-critics evaluate that comparison to determine which reading potentially came first in the transmission history of the text. This is the method that is primarily being used to construct the ECM. To see a basic overview of the method, please refer to this video, which is a thoughtful and helpful examination of the CBGM. I comment on the CBGM more here.
  1. The scholars that are using the CBGM and creating the ECM have varied opinions on what is being constructed. Men like Eldon Epp and DC Parker do not believe that the ECM has anything to say about the original, or authorial text of the New Testament. Others are more optimistic, such as Dirk Jongkind and Peter Gurry. As it stands, it has yet to be demonstrated how the ECM can definitively say anything about the original or authorial text, as the methods of the CBGM do not offer this sort of conclusion. Further, it has yet to be shown how a text with split readings can be said, in any meaningful way, to represent one unified Initial Text, let alone an original. That is to say, that the ECM contains the potential for multiple Initial Texts. The problem of split readings in the ECM has yet to be addressed adequately as far as I know. 
  1. The scholars creating printed Greek texts such as the NA/UBS platform do not believe they are creating original texts. They are simply creating printed texts that serve as a tool in translation and exegesis. The editors are typically disinterested in speaking to whether this text represents the authorial text, that is up to the user of the printed edition. This is evident in the fact that the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text and the 5th edition of the United Bible Society text are not a final text. Due to the ongoing creation of the ECM, these printed Greek texts are going to change, even optimistic scholars, such as Dr. Peter Gurry, comment that these changes “will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching” (ibid. 6).
  1. The Received Text (TR), is the form of the Greek New Testament as it existed during the first era of printed Greek Bibles during the 16th century after the introduction of the printing press in Europe. Up to that point, all books were hand copied. There is not one “TR”, per se, but rather a corpus of Greek Texts which are generally uniform. The places of variation between the TR are minor when the significance of these differences is considered. The opinion of textual scholar Dr. Edward F. Hills was that these variations amount to less than 10. High orthodox theologians such as Turretin considered such variations to be easily resolved upon brief examination. This was the Greek text that the Westminster Divines considered “Pure in all ages” and is the text platform that the Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines used in their commentaries and theological works from the middle of the 16th century up to the higher critical period when Hort’s text (Based on Vaticanus, generally the same text that is used for the ESV) was introduced as an alternative. There are varying views on what “the” TR is, but across all of the printed editions of the Received Text corpus, the differences are so minute that it can be considered the same Bible nonetheless. Modern debate tactics have introduced much confusion into the definition of “the’ TR, but the fact stands that this sort of question was not a problem to the men who used it to develop protestant theology up to the higher critical period. Adherence to the TR is based on the vindication of readings by the use of such readings by the people of God in time over and above extant manuscript data, which cannot represent all of the manuscripts that have ever existed, since a great number have been lost or destroyed.

Conclusion

Prior to entering into the Textual Discussion, I think it wise that Christians are up to date on not only the updated jargon, but also the information that underlies the jargon. If one wants to argue that the Papyri are definitive proof of one text being superior to another, he should be ready to substantiate that claim by demonstrating how the readings of the Papyri have impacted modern text-critical efforts. In the same way, if somebody wishes to stake a claim on the CBGM, it should also follow that one should be ready to demonstrate how this method has proved one conclusion or another. Simply saying that the Papyri and the CBGM have “proven” a particular text right or wrong is simply an assertion that needs to be substantiated. It may be the case that the claim is correct, but it is important that we hold ourselves to the same standard an 8th grade math teacher might hold us to, and “show your work.” The fact stands that a Bible cannot be constructed from all of the Papyri and the CBGM has introduced a “slight increase in the ECM editors’ uncertainty about the text, an uncertainty which has been de facto adopted by the editors of the NA/UBS” (ibid. 6). 

It is easy to get caught up in conversations on textual variants and the scholarly blunders of Erasmus, but these discussions do not come close to addressing the important components of the Textual Discussion. An important reality to consider when discussing variants from an MCT perspective is that the modern critical text is not finished, and the finished product is not claiming to be a stable or definitive text. The opinions on a variant may change in the next ten years, and new variants may be considered that have been ignored throughout the history of the church. One might make a case for why Luke 23:34 is not original, but the fact is that it is impossible to prove such a claim by modern critical methods without the original to substantiate the claim against. Even in the case of 1 John 5:7, which is admittedly a difficult verse to defend evidentially, it cannot be proven that other manuscripts contemporary to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus excluded the passage, because those manuscripts are no longer extant. Since it is well known that other Bibles with different readings existed at the time of our so called earliest manuscripts (because of the Papyri!), we can at least say with confidence that these two manuscripts do not represent what all of the Bibles looked like at that time. That is to say, that those who argue vehemently for Bibles which closely follow these two manuscripts are simply putting their faith in the unprovable claim that the other contemporary manuscripts did not have the readings that explode into the manuscript tradition shortly after and even minority readings that made it into the TR. Some people, like James Snapp, have developed entire textual positions which recognize this problem, which I consider a sort of mediating position between the Received Text and the Modern Critical Text. Unlike many of the MCT advocates, James Snapp is more than willing to show his work.  

In any case, it is high time that the bubble of Codex B is pricked. Times have changed, and even the most recent iteration of modern text-criticism has supposedly done away with Hort’s archaic theories. It may be time that Christians stop appealing to the Papyri and the CBGM without actually understanding what those two things are, and instead pick up some of the literature and become acquainted with what has changed since Metzger penned his Text of the New Testament. In my opinion, Snapp has answered many of the questions that modern textual scholars are unwilling to answer with his Equitable Eclecticism. While I believe his position still faces the same epistemological problems as the ECM and the CBGM, it certainly is an upgrade from the MCT. I hope that this article has helped people understand the effort of modern textual criticism better, and perhaps even sparked interested in investigating the information themselves. 

Sources for Further Reading on Modern Textual Criticism

D.C. Parker, editor of the ECM for the Gospel of John

Peter Gurry’s Introduction to the CBGM

Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson’s Latest Book

The Latest, Authoritative Work on the Pericope Adulterae (Jn. 7:53-8:11)

Sources for Further Study on the Received Text Position

Audio from the Text and Canon Conference 

Audio from Dr. Jeff Riddle’s Word Magazine

The Reformation Day Post: VERY Spooky

In the Beginning

God’s Word has been contested since the very beginning in the Garden when Satan said, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Eve then changes what God said, and Satan reinterprets it. “God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:1-4). Yes, from the very beginning of time, the battle for the authority of God’s Word has been fought. God has delivered His Word in every generation, and even delivers it anew to His people when it was thought to have been lost (2 Kings 22-23). The struggle for the authority of the Scriptures continued on through the Old Covenant, as the unfaithful kings of Israel continued to build and rebuild the high places. During Jesus’ time, the Pharisees had so distorted the meaning of God’s Word that Jesus issued a lengthy rebuke to them in the form of His exegesis of the law in Matthew 5.

And Again

Even past the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, with Marcion and others, the authority of the Scriptures continued to be questioned, and the actual words and passages themselves were contested and removed in some unfaithful manuscripts. Augustine of Hippo comments on the phenomenon, “Some men of slight faith, or, rather, some hostile to the true faith, fearing, as I believe, that liberty to sin with impunity is granted to their wives, remove from their Scriptural texts the account of our Lord’s pardon of the adulteress” (De adulterinis coniugiis 2.7.6). In the New Testament age, the method of attacking the authority of God’s Word has not changed.

Little is known about the transmission of the New Testament until the middle ages, other than the fact that a lot of Bibles were destroyed by persecution, war, fires, and other natural causes. The history of the New Testament, as it were, is largely clouded to a modern audience until the explosion of manuscripts in the 9th century. Despite this fact, there are quotations from theologians throughout the ages which testify to the existence of ancient and accurate copies that survived through the age of tampering. Deuteronomy 4:2 became an integral text to Augustine and other theologians during this time. “Augustine and his contemporaries were well aware that editing of this sort could potentially take place, and they invented various strategies to deal with the problem: curses were added to the end of certain treatises, sternly warning those who would dare to alter texts that they would be punished for their misdeeds” (Wasserman, Knust, To Cast the First Stone, 100). 

The manuscripts from the period just before and during Augustine’s time demonstrate that this period of time could be considered a tampering period of the text of the New Testament. Despite this tampering period, and the fact that Christianity almost lost to Arianism at the same time, the orthodox faith, along with the original Scriptures, continued on in time. This is the most reasonable explanation for the explosion of uniform manuscripts suddenly appearing in history during the middle ages. It was not long after this time that the next major attack on the authority of Scripture occurred. As the end of the middle scholastic period came to an end, theologians began to discover corruptions in the Latin Vulgate.

And Again…

The text of the Western church had in some places conformed to the teachings of Rome, which had been heading in a dark direction for quite some time. The Western church had, due to a number of reasons, developed into more of a political player than a religious one. Popes began to sell their papacy to the highest bidder, and one point, three popes occupied the office. Indulgences were introduced to encourage knights to fight for the Holy Roman Empire, and this led to the grossly abusive practice of the church which drained the pockets of the laity. Some churches had failed to give communion to the people in years, and in many cases, the only people taking communion were the priests themselves, with the laity observing. Despite this corruption, the seed of the Reformation lived in the marrow of the church with men like Wycliffe and Hus. In the same way that Athenasius was raised up during the Arian controversy in the early church, faithful men of God were called out of the wilderness and began crying out in protest against the abuses that had developed in the Western church. God began orchestrating the Reformation well before that fateful October day in Wittenberg in 1517. 

In fact, there were several providential events that are often forgotten leading up to the Reformation. In the mid 15th century, two things occur that contribute to the Protestant movement. The first is the construction of the printing press in Guttenberg in 1436, and the second is the fall of Constantinople shortly after that. Up to that point in the west, the Bible that was used was Latin, and the means of reproducing that Bible was hand-copying. When Constantinople fell, the Greek speaking people of God came flooding into the West, bringing with them their language and their Bibles. Bibles continued to be hand-copied for some time after this event, but it wasn’t long until the printing press was purposed for printing the Bible in all sorts of languages. During this pre-Reformation period, men like Wycliffe had already started producing Bibles in English, and in response, the Roman church said that the Bible was only authoritative insofar as it was approved by the church, and the only Bible approved by the church was the Latin Vulgate as it had come to exist during that time. The Roman church was not mighty enough to stop the events that had been started at the fall of Constantinople and the invention of the printing press, however. In 1514, the Complutensian Polyglot New Testament had been printed, and two years later in 1516, Erasmus’ first edition of the Novum Testamentum was hot on the press. There was nothing that Rome could do to stop what would happen next. 

On October 31, 1517, a German Roman Catholic Monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses which detailed the places the Western church need to change. This moment marks the date that most people consider the Protestant Reformation to have officially started. During this time, the battle for the Bible centered around one question: In what way are the Scriptures authoritative. On one hand, the Roman church said that the Scriptures were authoritative by virtue of the church. On the other hand, the Protestants said that the Bible was authoritative in itself, it was self-authenticating (αυτοπιστος). The doctrine of the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures was in fact the fundamental principle that drove the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and thus drove the entire Reformation. The only refutation for the doctrine of Rome was to return to the Scriptural reality that God Himself gave authority to the Bible. This doctrine of Scripture ultimately becomes a staple in Protestant doctrine and is codified in all of the major confessions of the 17th century. 

And Again…

If history has taught us anything, the battle for the authority of Scripture did not end with the high orthodox theologians following the Reformation. The next major battle that the church would face came from Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation. Starting with a German theologian named Friedrich Schleiermacher, the way that theology was done forever changed. The Bible no longer was the Word of God, the Bible was the documentation of the experience of communities of faith. In the German schools, the idea that the Bible was infallible came under fire and the way the Bible was described and understood changed rapidly. Due to the rise of the sciences and the development of the philosophy of religion, much of the historical information found in the Scriptures was determined to be factually incorrect. As a result, German theologians made sense of this by splitting the interpretation of history into at least two categories.

The first was history as it actually happened, and the second was history as it was experienced by various communities in time. The miracles in the Bible were not true history, they were the interpretation of history by human communities who were trying to make sense of their religious experience. The birth of historical criticism, or higher criticism, would be the next giant the church had to slay. German theologian Karl Barth, who came onto the scene like a stampeding elephant trumpeting through a Sunday school class, made an attempt at responding to higher criticism with what is now known as Neo-Orthodoxy. The Bible didn’t have to be factually correct or materially correct to be the Word of God according to Barth. The Bible was the authoritative witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The Word of God was Jesus Christ, and the Bible became the Word of God when the Holy Spirit worked in the believer. The Bible was not the Word of God, it was a witness to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and it became the Word of God on occasion.

The theology of Barth sent the church reeling, scrambling to give a response. Theologians like Cornelius Van Til spent nearly 30 years offering a response to idealism and neo-orthodoxy by developing his transcendentalism. Prior to the rise of Neo-Orthodoxy, B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge attempted to address higher criticism by reinterpreting the Westminster Confession. The Bible did not have to be materially preserved to be inerrant, they said, it just had to preserve the sense of the thing. The Bible was really only inspired and perfect in the autographs, and that is what the high orthodox meant. Unfortunately, that is not what the high orthodox meant, and the church thought that the high-orthodox doctrine of Scripture could not stand its ground to higher criticism like it had against Rome in the 16th century. What Warfield’s doctrine meant was that the Bible could be proved to be original by way of evidence, that by an effort of lower criticism, the original could most certainly be reconstructed. This articulation of Scripture was entirely dependent on the abilities of textual scholars to demonstrate that an original could be produced from the surviving manuscripts. In other words, the Scriptures are the Word of God insofar as they could be demonstrated to be the Word of God. At the time of Warfield, theologians were nearly unanimous in believing that this could be done with lower criticism. In fact, Warfield believed that the efforts of text-critics in his day were the providential workings of God to restore the original text of the Scriptures to the church. 

Some time later, the battle for the Bible began and led to the production of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was a direct response to the neo-orthodox doctrine of Scripture which had turned the church upside down. The latest battle for the authority of Scripture did two things: 1) It codified the theology of Warfield and 2) determined that higher and lower criticism were two separate and unrelated disciplines. Yet the theology of Scheliermacher and Barth were planted, like twin mustard seeds, and today stand as mighty trees in the center of orthodoxy. 

The next battle for the Bible is arguably happening now, and will most certainly rage on until Barth and Schleiermacher are answered totally and finally. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has not aged well, and the ghost of Schleiermacher haunts the canons of modern textual scholarship. Since Warfield’s doctrine was so reliant on the success of lower-criticism and its separation from higher criticism, it is completely contingent on these two things being reality. Yet, something has happened since Warfield’s time which has given cause for a new battle. The development of lower criticism has resulted in its fusion with higher criticism, and the reality upon which Warfield’s argument rests is no longer reality. See, Warfield’s doctrine was contingent on the success of the lower critics in proving the original from the extant manuscripts. Since the stated goal of textual criticism is now the Initial Text, Warfield’s formulation has lost its power. Further, the line between higher and lower criticism has become blurred and the actual textual decisions being made by the lower-critics are informed by a combination of both textual data and higher critical principles. 

This is evident in that the stated goal of the Editio Critica Maior is not to produce an original Bible, but rather to reconstruct the history of the transmission of the New Testament Text. In other words, the goal of this critical text is to produce the history of how Christians have experienced their religion in time by examining the documents they left behind. The readings which are determined earliest only speak to the written expression of Christianity in the time and place that it represents. The variants which rank later simply represent how faith communities evolved and developed throughout time. Since the goal is not a definitive text, the goal is inherently in line with documenting how Christians recorded their experience in time. The ECM is not the Bible, it may or may not contain the Bible. That means that while printed editions created from the ECM may have the objective of producing an early witness to the New Testament text, it in itself says nothing regarding the authorial text. Some may say that this Initial Text represents the authorial text, but this is simply how Kant would have responded to Schleiermacher. The very concept of the ECM is the direct implementation of higher criticism in text-critical practice.   

There are two ways that Christians can respond to the reality of the ECM. The first is found in Barth or perhaps Bultmann. It is fine that the Bible contains errors and factual problems, the Word of God is contained in the Bible or perhaps the Bible is a witness to the Word of God. In fact, it would be putting limitations on God by saying that He must speak in a narrowly defined set of Scriptures. God is far beyond anything we can comprehend, and therefore the words in Scripture become of the Word of God when God speaks through them. Since the Bible cannot be proven to be original by lower criticism, and higher criticism results in demythologizing the Bible, the only answer must be Barth, or some variation. The second option, which was not tried during the Warfieldian era, is the high-orthodox view of Scripture. The Bible does not need to be reconstructed, or demonstrated to be original by way of lower-criticism, because it was never lost and does not need to be proved. God Himself authenticates the Scriptures and by His special care and providence has kept them pure in all ages. The Holy Scriptures were faithfully handed down in time by the believing people of God until a providential innovation of technology allowed for them to be printed. This text was edited according to the common faith and was universally received by the Protestants by the end of the 16th century. This is the text that won against the Papists and reigned supreme until the theories of higher critics unseated it from the favor of the academy. The reception of this text vindicates God’s providence in the matter and it is the most widely read text, even today. It has been cast down by the schoolmen, but among the people of God it has held its place. 

There is a reason that the Reformed stood on the doctrine of Scripture which said that the Bible was self-authenticating. It was the only response to the Papists that would have resulted in the success of Protestantism. The doctrine of Warfield was bound to fail as it was intimately tied to the success of men in reproducing an original text. When the concept of the “original” became obsolete, so did Warfield’s doctrine. At the same time, this allowed higher critical principles an official seat back at the lower-critical table. It will be interesting to see whether Christians uphold the high-orthodox view of the Scriptures, or retreat back to Barth for empty comfort. 

Memoirs of an ESV-Onlyist: Reflecting on the Text and Canon Conference

Introduction

On Reformation weekend, a small conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia called The Text and Canon Conference which focused on offering a clear definition of what it means when people advocate for the Masoretic Hebrew and Received Greek text. For those that are not up to date with all of the jargon, the Masoretic Hebrew text is the only full Hebrew Old Testament text available, and the Greek Received Text is the Greek New Testament which was used during the Protestant Reformation and Post-Reformation period. At the time of the Reformation, the Bibles used the Masoretic Text and Received Text for all translational efforts. Bibles produced in the modern era use the Masoretic Text as a foundation for the Old Testament, but frequently use Greek, Latin, and other translations of the Hebrew over the Masoretic text. Modern Bibles also utilize a different Greek text for the New Testament which is commonly called the Modern Critical Text. As a result of these differences, the Bibles produced from the text of the Reformation are different in many ways from the Bibles produced during the recent years.  

One of the major focuses of the conference was to demonstrate that it is still a good idea, and even necessary, to use a Reformation era Bible, or Bibles that utilize the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the Reformation era Bibles. The key speakers, Dr. Jeff Riddle and Pastor Robert Truelove, delivered a series of lectures which demonstrated the historical perspective on the transmission history of the Old and New Testaments and presented a wealth of reasons why the Reformation era Hebrew and Greek texts are still reliable, even today. I will be writing a series of articles which cover some of the key highlights of the conference. In this article, I want to explain why I think this conference was necessary, and also to detail the series of events which led me to attending this conference. 

Why Was the Text and Canon Conference Necessary?  

There are two major reasons that I believe the Text and Canon conference was necessary. The first is that many Christians do not believe that there is any justifiable reason to retain the historical text of the Protestant church. The second is that many Christians are not fully informed on the state of current text critical efforts. Due to this reality, lectures delivered at the Text and Canon conference provided theological and historical reasons which supported the continued use of the Reformation era Hebrew and Greek texts, as well as offered information on the current effort of textual scholarship. An important reality in the textual discussion is that the majority of Christians do not have the time and in many cases, the ability to keep up to date with all of the textual variants and text-critical methodologies that go into making modern Bibles. There is a great need in the church today for clear articulations of the history of the Bible, as well as accessible presentations on how modern Bibles are produced. The Text and Canon conference, in part, met this need, as well as offered many opportunities for fellowship and like-minded conversation. Prior to launching into a series of commentary on the conference, I thought it would be helpful to share my journey from being a modern critical text advocate to a Traditional Text advocate. 

From the 2016 ESV to the Text and Canon Conference

Prior to switching to a Reformation era Bible, I began to discover certain realities about the modern efforts of textual criticism which caused me to have serious doubts as to whether or not the Bible was preserved. I had a hard time reconciling my doctrine of inspiration and preservation with the fact that there is an ongoing effort to reconstruct the Bible that has been in progress for over 200 years. These doubts increased when I discovered that not only had the methods of text-criticism changed since I was converted to Christianity over ten years ago, but that the modern critical text would be changing more in the next ten years. I began to read anything I could get my hands on to see if I could figure out more information on the methods that were responsible for creating the Bible I was reading at the time. When I began this process of investigation, I had just finished my cover-to-cover reading plan of the new 2016 ESV. At first, I was attempting to simply understand the methodology of the modern critical text with the assumption that a better understanding of it would help me defend the Scriptures against the opponents of the faith. The process quickly became a search for another position on the text of Scripture. This is due to some of the more alarming things I learned in my investigation of modern critical methods. There are six significant discoveries I made when investigating the current effort of textual criticism that I would like to share here. These six discoveries led me from being a committed ESV reader to a committed KJV reader.  

The first discovery that sent me down a different path than the modern critical text was when I investigated the manuscript data supporting the removal of Mark 16:9-20 in my 2016 ESV. The other pastor of Agros Church, Dane Johannsson, had called me to tell me about some information he learned about the Longer Ending of Mark after listening to an episode of Word Magazine, produced by Dr. Jeff Riddle. Up to this point, I had heard many pastors that I trusted say that the manuscript data was heavily in favor of this passage not being original. My Bible even said that “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include this passage”. I was seriously confused when I found out that only three of the thousands of manuscripts excluded the passage, and only two of them are dated before the fifth century. This made me wonder, if all it took was two early manuscripts to discredit the validity of a passage in Scripture, what would happen if more manuscripts were found that did not have other passages that I had prayed over, studied, and heard preached? If a passage that had thousands of manuscripts supporting it could be delegated to brackets, footnotes, or removed based on the testimony of two manuscripts, I realized that this same logic could be easily applied to quite literally any place in my Bible. All that it would take for other passages to be removed would be another manuscript discovery, or even a reevaluation of the evidence already in hand.  

The second discovery was the one that fully convinced me to put away my 2016 ESV and initially, pick up an NKJV. At the time of this exploration process I was utilizing my Nestle-Aland 28th edition and the United Bible Society 5th edition in my Greek studies. I was still learning to use my apparatus when I learned what the diamond meant. In the prefatory material of the NA28, it states that the diamond indicates a place where the editors of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) were split in determining which textual variant was earliest. That meant that it was up to me, or possibly somebody else,  to determine which reading belonged in the main text. This is a reality that I would have never known by simply reading my ESV. I discovered that there were places where the ESV translators had actually gone with a different decision than the ECM editors, like 2 Peter 3:10, where the critical text reads the exact opposite of the ESV. This of course was concerning, but I wasn’t exactly sure why at the time. I figured there had to be a good reason for this, there were thousands of manuscripts, after all. I began investigating the methodology that was used to produce these diamond readings, and learned that it was called the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). I quickly found out that there was not a whole lot of literature on the topic. The two books that I initially found were priced at $34 and $127, which was a bit staggering for me at the time. It was important for me to understand these methods, so I ended up at first purchasing the $34 book. It was what I discovered in this book that heavily concerned me. Due to the literature on the CBGM being relatively new, and possibly too expensive for the average person to purchase, I had a hard time finding anybody to discuss the book with me. It was actually the literature on the CBGM that motivated me to start podcasting and writing on the issue. If I couldn’t find anybody to discuss this with, it meant that nobody really knew about it.   

The third discovery was the one that convinced me that I should start writing more about, and even advocating against, this new methodology. This was the methodology that was being employed in creating the Bible translations that all of my friends were reading, and that I was reading up until switching to the NKJV. It’s not that I “had it out” for modern Bibles, I figured that if these discoveries had caused so much turmoil in my faith, they would cause others to have similar struggles. Most of my friends knew nothing about the CBGM, just that they had heard it was a computer program that was going to produce a very accurate, even original, Bible. After reading the introductory work on the method, I knew that what I heard about the CBGM was perhaps too precipitated. Based on my conversations with my friends on textual criticism, I knew that my friends were just as uninformed as I was on the current effort of textual scholarship. It wasn’t that I thought I was the first person to discover these things that motivated me to start writing,  but the fact that myself and all of my friends were not aware of any of the information I was reading. Up to that point in my research, I was under the assumption that the goal of textual criticism was to reconstruct the original text that the prophets and apostles had penned. I even thought that scholars believed they had produced that original text which I was reading in English in my ESV. I found out that this was not the case for the current effort of textual scholarship. I learned that the goal of textual criticism had, at some point in the last ten years, shifted from the pursuit of the original to what is called the Initial Text. In my studies, I realized that there were differing opinions on how the Initial Text should be defined, and even if there was one Initial Text. In all cases, however, the goal was different than what I thought. It did not take me long to realize the theological implications of this shift in effort. At the time, I fully adhered to both the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1.8, as well as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was in examining the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy against the stated goals of the newest effort of textual criticism that made me realize there were severe theological implications to what I was reading and studying.  

The fourth discovery was the one that made me realize that the conversation of textual criticism was not only about Greek texts and translations, it was about the doctrine of Scripture itself. At the time I believed that the Bible was inspired insofar as it represented the original, and the original, as I found out, was no longer being pursued. The original was no longer being pursued, I learned, because the majority, if not all of the scholars, believed it could not be found, and that it was lost as soon as the first copy of the New Testament had been made. There are various ways of articulating this reality, but I could not find a single New Testament scholar who was actually doing work in the field of textual scholarship who still held onto the idea that the original, in the sense that I was defining it, could be attained. Even Holger Strutwolf, a conservative editor of the Modern Critical Text, seems to define the original as being as “far back to the roots as possible” (Original Text and Textual History, 41). This being the case, if the current effort of textual criticism was not claiming to have determined the original readings of the Bible, than my doctrine of Scripture was seemingly vacuous. If the Bible was inspired insofar as it represented the original, and there was nobody able to determine which texts were original, my view of the Bible was that it wasn’t inspired at all. At the bare minimum, it was only inspired where there weren’t serious variants. In either case, this reality was impossible for me to reconcile. I then sought out to discover how the Christians who were informed on all the happenings of textual criticism explained the doctrine of Scripture in light of this reality. I figured I wasn’t the first person to discover this about the modern text-critical effort, so somebody had to have a good doctrinal explanation. 

The fifth discovery was the one that made me realize that I did not have a claim to an inspired text, if I trusted in the efforts of modern textual criticism. In my search for faithful explanations of inspiration in light of the current effort of textual criticism, I did not find anything meaningful. In nearly every case, the answer was simply one of Kantian faith. Despite the split readings in the ECM and the abandoned pursuit of the original, I was told I had to believe it was preserved. Even if nearly every textual scholar was saying that the idea of the “original” was a novel idea from the past, or simply the earliest surviving text, I had to reconcile that reality with my theology. One of the answers I received was that the original text was preserved somewhere in all of the surviving manuscripts, and that there really was not any doctrine lost, no matter which textual variants were translated. This is based, in part, on an outdated theory which says that variants are “tenacious” – that once a variant enters the manuscript tradition it doesn’t fall out. This of course cannot be proven, and even can be shown to be false. Another answer I found was that all of the surviving manuscripts essentially taught the same exact thing. This would have been comforting, had I not spent time using my NA28 apparatus and reading different translations. I knew for a fact that there were many places where variants changed doctrine, sometimes in significant ways. Would the earth be burnt up on the last day, or would it not be burnt up? Was Jesus the unique god, or the only begotten Son? The answers I received simply did not line up with reality. I had no way of proving which of the countless variants were original. When I discovered this, I finally understood the position of Bart Ehrman. He, like myself, had come to the conclusion that the theories, methods, and conclusions which went into the construction of the modern critical text told a story of a Bible that really wasn’t all that preserved. 

The sixth and final discovery I made, which did not necessarily happen in chronological order with the rest of my discoveries, was that there were several other views of textual criticism within the Reformed and larger Evangelical tradition. Prior to beginning my research project, I had read The King James Only Controversy, which led me to believe that there were really only two views on the text – KJV Onlyists and everybody else. I discovered that this was the farthest thing from reality and a terrible misrepresentation of the people of God who held to these other positions. The modern critical text was not a monolith, and I did not need to adopt it to defend my faith, or have a Bible. In fact, I knew that there was no way I could defend my faith with the modern critical text. In my research, I even discovered countless enemies of the faith who used the modern critical text as a way to disprove the preservation of Scripture. Various debates against Bart Ehrman that I watched demonstrated this fact clearly. I learned that even within the camp of modern textual criticism, there were people who did not read Bibles translated from the modern critical text. There were even people who disagreed on which readings were earliest within the modern critical text. There were people who adopted the longer ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery who also did not read the KJV. There were also people who believed that the Bible was preserved in the majority of manuscripts, in opposition to other positions which say that original readings can be preserved in just one or two manuscripts. I also discovered the position I hold to now, which says that the original text of the Bible was preserved up to the Reformation, and thus the translations made during that time represent that transmitted original. This ultimately was the position that made the most sense to me theologically, as well as historically. I realized that the attacks on the TR, which often said that it was only created from “half a dozen” manuscripts, was not exactly meaningful, as the modern critical text often makes textual decisions based on just two manuscripts. In any case, the conversation of textual criticism was much more nuanced and complex than I had believed it to be. 

Conclusion

I can only speak for myself as to how my discoveries affected my faith. It is clear that many Christians do not have a problem with a Greek text that is changing, and in many places, undecided. In my case, I was told to take a Kantian leap of faith to trust in this text. In my experience, most of the time people simply are unaware of the happenings of modern textual scholarship. It is not that I have any special knowledge, or secret wisdom, I simply had the time and energy and opportunity to read a lot of the current literature on the latest methods being employed in creating Bibles. One thing that has motivated me to be so vocal about this issue is the reality that most people simply are uninformed on the issue, like myself at the time of starting my research project. Due to one reason or another, the information on the current methods is difficult to access for many, and even more simply do not know that anything has changed in the last 20 years. My gut tells me that if people were simply informed more on the issue, they might at least consider embarking on a research project like I did. The fact is, that many scholars and apologists for the critical text are insistent on framing this discussion as “KJV Onlyism against the world”, and it is apparent that it has been effective. Despite this, it was not my love for tradition or an affinity for the KJV that led me to reading it. In fact, I was hesitant to read it as a result of all the negative things I had heard about it. Primarily,it was my discoveries regarding the state of modern textual criticism that led me to putting down my ESV and picking up an NKJV, and then finally a KJV. 

I thought it would be helpful to detail my discoveries which led me to the position I hold now on the text of Scripture. I will be writing more articles commenting on what I consider to be the more important points of the conference. Hopefully my commentary can serve to give you, the reader, more confidence in the Scriptures, and to share some of the important information presented at the Text and Canon conference.  

Putting the Conversation in Perspective

Introduction

It may be difficult for many people to see the relevance of the textual discussion. This is often because it is rare that a positive case is made for the modern critical text.The majority of exposure people get to this conversation from a modern critical text position are simply polemics and a healthy dose of pejoratives. The problem with this is that these methods fail to offer a reason to believe that the modern critical text is the best. Simply saying the TR is awful and shouldn’t be used actually introduces far more problems than it solves. From a practical standpoint, if the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Received Greek text is not viable for use in the church, then not only was the Protestant religion sparked and built on a bad Bible, but there is an unfinished Bible for today’s church. It is important to clarify that I am not saying that people who adopt the modern critical perspective cannot be saved or cannot benefit from modern translations. I myself read through the Bible for the first time using an NIV. What I am saying is that a “mere Christianity” approach should not be adopted for the Bible we use. As Christians, we should be concerned with every jot and tittle, not the bare minimum it takes for somebody to be saved. That being said, I want to explain why somebody who found great comfort in the NIV in the early years of his Christian walk now reads a traditional Bible. If the last book you read on text-criticism was The Text of the New Testament in seminary, things have changed…a lot. Let’s take a step into the mindset of a modern critical text advocate for a moment here. The justification for adopting the modern critical text requires three main assumptions.

  1. The Received Greek Text does not represent the earliest manuscripts, and therefore represents a New Testament that was corrupted by well-meaning Christians over time
  2. The Masoretic Hebrew Text does not represent the original manuscripts as it has been corrupted by Jews seeking to diminish the deity of Christ
  3. The modern critical methods, and thus the modern critical text, are better than the previous text and should be used over and above the traditional text of the protestant church due to this orthodox and Jewish corruption of the Scriptures

An unfortunate side effect of advocating against the historical text of the Protestants is that the validity of the Bible is undermined as a whole. If the Masoretic Text has not been kept pure, which Hebrew text should be translated from? Typically the Septuagint is offered. There are two main problems with this. 1) There isn’t one “Septuagint” and 2) the confessions affirm against using translations as the ultimate rule of faith. Further, if the Received Text is not the New Testament, then the people of God have been woefully deceived. There are two ways to look at this deception. In the first place, if the Received Text was a strange, historical phenomenon where the people of God chose manuscripts that nobody had ever used in history, then the church was deceived for hundreds of years. This is in essence what is being claimed when somebody says, “This reads in a fashion unknown to the Christian tradition for a full 1,500 years.” If it is the case that the manuscripts used in the Reformation era printed texts represented the “most ancient copies”, as they claimed, then the church was deceived since the early church. In advocating for the modern critical text, there is a significant theological problem introduced that cannot be resolved without arguing for a total corruption of the text. 

More Questions Than Answers

If the theories of textual scholars are correct, the actual Bible is preserved partially in a small minority of manuscripts from the third and fourth centuries. The vast majority of manuscripts, according to modern scholarship, are the product of a well-meaning corruption by Christians to solidify doctrine, add beloved pericopes, and correct grammar mistakes. No matter how somebody spins it, God not only let his church and the Jews corrupt the Scriptures, but then allowed them to believe that those corruptions were inspired. In simple terms, there is no continuity in the preservation of God’s Word from a modern critical text perspective. The BIble was lost for a time, and now needs to be recovered. The text existed in the early church, became corrupted by the believing people of God and the Jews for a large chunk of church history, and resurfaced in the modern period for use by all in a small amount of neglected manuscripts and some versions of the Septuagint where doubt is cast on the Hebrew. 

The basic argument that is presented by the Confessional Text position is that the Bible was preserved going into the medieval and Reformation period, and that the text-critical work done in that period used those preserved manuscripts. If the assumption is that God preserved His Word, it would make sense that the general form of manuscripts used by the church would be most abundant, as they were used the most. Manuscripts that were later found in libraries, caves, and barrels sat collecting dust for a reason. Therefore the text-critical effort of the Reformation period was one of printing versions of the manuscripts which were considered best during that time. The problem that many have with this perspective is that the Reformation era text is often compared against the modern critical text with the assumption that the MCT is representative of the authorial, or original text. 

Yet a significant problem with this perspective is that it cannot be proven, or demonstrated with any level of confidence from an evidentiary standpoint. This is made evident in the fact that the theory of using text families to get back to the original text has been mostly abandoned. Instead, the effort of modern textual scholarship has shifted from finding the true authorial text to the hypothetical initial text. This is the major shift that occurred from the time of the Hort-Metzger era. Since the text that the people of God used during the Reformation period has been written off as a corruption, the only thing left to do is try and reconstruct the text that existed before that happened. This is more or less the current effort of the Editio critica maior. Instead of using text families, the current method is examining individual variant units and trying to determine which variant gave birth to the rest of the readings found in later manuscripts. No matter how thorough this analysis is, there will never be a way to determine if the earliest reading represents the original reading, or if that reading is even the earliest. This is the biggest limitation of the CBGM. There will never be a method that can span the historical gap between the authorial text and the initial text. In reality, this initial text will simply represent something similar to one version of the Bible from the third or fourth century that the people of God didn’t use universally. This is clearly shown in that the extant third and fourth century manuscripts do not represent the majority text or the Reformation era text. 

To put this in perspective, there are eight (P45, P46, P47, P66, P72, P75, Aleph, B, EDIT: Manuscript Clusters Tool is not linking properly. Type in Manuscript Name to use) significant manuscripts from before the fifth century that represent the text form which is called “earliest and best” in textbooks and modern bibles. Only two of these are complete bibles. The most complete of these manuscripts do not agree enough with each other to be related directly, which means that they did not descend from one uniform manuscript tradition. That means that the origin of these manuscripts will forever be a gray area to some extent. 

 Let me paint a picture that may help you understand what this means. Imagine you find a stack of nearly six thousand bibles. A handful of those bibles are extremely old, but not used very much so they are still able to be handled and examined. These older bibles have abrupt readings, omitted verses, more variants between the synoptic passages in the gospels, and have a great number of difficult grammatical constructions which take some effort to understand. They look different from the rest of the bibles, which have better grammar, less omitted passages, and more harmony in the readings. These handful of bibles are older, however, so you determine that they are the best. Since the majority of the bibles have a number of readings in the New and Old Testament that disagree with these older bibles, you determine that the majority of the bibles are wrong. You devise a theory that the original bible looked like the minority of older bibles. You make it your life’s mission to ensure that the majority of bibles are not used anymore, and 120 years later, the majority of churches are using the bible you’ve determined to be earliest and best. A small minority of churches still use the rejected bible, but are mocked and ridiculed for reading it. Those who read the newly declared oldest bibles ensure that these people are called “traditionalists” so that everybody knows they are wrong for not adopting the new bible. You devise pejorative terms like “New Bible Onlyists” to further scorn people for not adapting to the times. The majority of bibles are said to have been proven to be corrupt, so the division between the two camps becomes wider. There is only one problem – in the 120 years that the church adopted this new bible, nobody has been able to prove that the original claim was correct. In fact, there is an increasing amount of evidence which demonstrates that that claim was not correct at all. Instead of rejecting these old bibles, a new method is devised to prove the original theory. The church, mostly unaware of this, continues to read these newly adopted bibles and viciously attack those that have not adopted the new standard.

Conclusion

The period of time from the authorial event of the New Testament to the Reformation period is the most significant when it comes to the textual discussion. There are two narratives of the transmission history during this time. The first is that the Bible was kept pure in the manuscript tradition until the Reformation period, where the text-critical efforts of that time took those preserved manuscripts, edited them into printed editions, and made Bibles from them. The second is that by the third and fourth century, the manuscript tradition began to evolve as believing Christians smoothed out the grammar, added beloved pericopes, and expanded verses to make the Christology of the Bible more clear. In the second narrative, the Jews were also hard at work corrupting the Hebrew Scriptures so that by the time the modern period came around, there was not a single Hebrew text which represented the authorial text. 

This conversation is not about the TR or the modern critical text, it is about the narrative of preservation. If God preserved the Bible into the Reformation period, than the work done during that time was the final effort needed. The only reason to believe that an ongoing text-critical effort is required is if the first effort used a corrupted version of God’s Word in the Hebrew and Greek. Since the source material of the Reformation period needs to be considered corrupted to justify the modern effort, additional methods must be employed which extend beyond the capabilities of the extant data. These methods include constructing hypothetical archetypes of the earliest texts and correcting the Hebrew with Greek versional readings. Despite the best efforts of modern textual scholarship, the results of these methods cannot “prove” anything regarding the original text. The strongest testimony to the authorial text will always be the witness of the people who used those texts in time. Christians can indeed have confidence in their Bible, but I argue that the modern critical methodology cannot provide that confidence. If the Bible was preserved, it was preserved up to the time of the first text-critical effort. That effort produced the Bibles that sparked the Protestant Reformation and the largest Christian revival in the history of the World. The theological works which the modern church stands on were developed from this text, and Christians still stand on that theology, especially the confessionally Reformed. At the very foundation of this conversation is two different narratives, and two different methodologies. Neither of these narratives can be proved purely by extant manuscript data if the manuscript data is viewed agnostically. The real question that must be answered by Christians is, “Did God preserve His Word into the middle period and Reformation period, or not?” If manuscripts that represent the minority of the extant data are rejected, than the perspectives of the Reformed are clear as day. They believed the Bible had been preserved in both the Hebrew and the Greek, and I argue that the modern church should join them in that belief. If it is the case that an argument can be made for a preserved Bible from a modern critical perspective, I have yet to see it demonstrated. Unless that happens, I will continue to stand on, and advocate for, the Bible of the Protestant Reformation.  

More Resources:

Jeff Riddle Word Magazine

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

Dr. Joel Beeke on Retaining the KJV

Refutation of Dan Wallace on the Byzantine Text

All Scripture is Profitable, Except When It’s Not

Introduction

It is easy to look at the textual discussion from afar and fail to see the relevance. If this is just about a few textual variants and the difference between “thee” and “you”, what is even the point? I want to zoom out for a second, away from all of the text-critical jargon, and make application to the heart of the issue. At its very foundation, the Protestant faith is founded upon the belief that God has spoken and acted in time. There are two realities that testify to this fact – that people believe that a man named Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again two thousand years after the fact, and the Holy Scriptures. While the reality of a Christian church is an important reality to note, without the Holy Scriptures, Christianity was just a cultural phenomenon that got way out of hand.The Scriptures provide the foundation, the purpose, and the reality that the Triune God has spoken and acted in the specific way He did. When the Scriptures are undermined, popular mythology and false narratives run wild, as we have seen in the modern period with Walter Bauer, Bart Erhman, and Robert Price, and Richard Carrier.  

Even more pertinent to this discussion than the opinions of apostate men and atheists is how the undermining of God’s Word has affected the believing church. It is important to recognize that a low view of the Scriptures has given permission for the unbeliever to stand over God’s Word in judgement, and it is even more important to recognize how this has impacted the people that the Bible was given to – God’s covenant people. The Bible expresses very clearly that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” and is given to the people of God for the purpose of making men wise unto salvation and “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15-16). When the people of God do not trust that “all Scripture” is powerful to do this, the church deteriorates and adds its own standards into the traditions and practices of the Christian religion. Personal words of knowledge are given more credence than the Scriptures, new perspectives on Paul’s theology are taught in seminaries, and the critical theory of James Cone is paraded through the seminary and academy. While it is disheartening to see the antagonistic efforts of secular scholars as they tinker with the Bible, it should be even more disheartening that the majority of the Christian church simply does not trust every word of God. This kind of distrust in God’s Word is prolific, and is made apparent in the fact that even seminaries are training men not to build doctrinal statements upon contested passages or verses that contain unique vocabulary. 

The Inconsistency of the Modern Hermeneutic 

The modern interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16 is that all Scripture is profitable, unless it contains a variant, or it contains unique vocabulary. This is fundamentally a skeptical perspective on the Word of God, and it has had great consequences in the church. Christians are commanded to approach the Bible with faith (John 10:27), not apprehension. Further, this kind of perspective is completely in opposition to historic orthodox protestant belief, who built entire doctrines on contested passages and unique vocabulary. They felt confident and even obligated to do so because they truly believed in God’s Word as sufficient and authoritative. To demonstrate this fact, the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, inspiration, is founded on a word that Paul probably made up, and only occurs once in the Bible – θεόπνευστος (Inspired, God breathed). A brief survey of the Reformed confessions reveals a multitude of verses that are actually removed from modern Bibles, or delegated to brackets and footnotes. This speaks to a more foundational problem within the Christian church today. 

The people of God believe, in opposition to the historic view of the Scriptures, that the authority of God’s Word rests in the subject, not the object. In other words, God’s Word is only authoritative in so far as a person declares it to be authoritative. When a Christian declares that doctrine should not be built upon a contested passage, they are implicitly accepting that they get to determine what is authoritative in Scripture. In adopting this hermeneutic principle, the Christian has lost all right to contest the various heterodox interpretations of Scripture that have inundated the church. The Christian has no contest with Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, or Robert Price, because they are simply employing the same interpretive principle as the Christian who only wants to build doctrine on non-contested passages. The only difference is the scope and origin of passages which are considered contested. Underneath the differences is the same exact principle. Since the authority of the Bible has been shifted from the object to the subject, and the subject is not omniscient,  it is impossible to make a meaningful claim about the object that doesn’t amount to a personal opinion. 

The Bible explicitly condemns this kind of hermeneutic in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This passage vests the authority of the Scriptures in the movements of the Holy Ghost, in the Scriptures themselves. Those same Scriptures declare that “all Scripture” has been inspired by God, and should be used in all matters of faith and practice. If a Christian wishes to contest, let’s just say, the claim that David raped Bathsheba, they must first assume that there is indeed a correct interpretation, and the proper meaning of that passage is not dependent upon the subject. Any and all refutations of this strange understanding of David and Bathsheba are presupposing the objective authority of the Word of God. So while one can say that since that passage is lacking any meaningful variants and thus true interpretation can be done, the foundational hermeneutic principle assumes the authority of a different hermeneutic principle.

The Greatest Inconsistency of the Modern Church 


Herein lies the greatest inconsistency in the modern church, and the reason that heterodoxy has become orthodoxy in the modern period. The modern doctrine of Scripture does not recognize the self-authenticating, objective authority of the Word of God. Certain people may give lip service to an authoritative standard in the Scriptures, but the actual theology underneath it cannot provide the kind of authority that is being claimed. In the modern view of Scripture, the Word of God is only considered authoritative in so far as the subject can determine that it is authoritative. In doing this, the Christian church has actually given allowance to not only the unbeliever, but also the believer to impose their subjective authority upon the text. If you have ever heard somebody say, “Well I just interpret that differently”, you have experienced the fruit of this modern perspective. The Word of God is demonstrably not the final authority, the principia, of the people of God in the vast majority of churches today. 

Those that consider themselves Reformed might be nodding their heads and saying “amen!”, but the chances are extremely high that you, as a Reformed believer, are guilty of the same exact thing as the unbeliever and liberal mainstream evangelical. If this is your hermeneutic standard, it is more than likely that the only thing keeping you from heading the direction of the rest of the church is the tradition you hold to, which then becomes your ultimate standard. Praise God for the faithful men who came before us and established such traditions.

Before explaining this, I want to reemphasize the two opposite views on the Holy Scriptures. The first is that the Word of God is self-authenticating (αὐτόπιστος). The Word of God is authoritative in itself, because it is the product of God speaking in time (Deus dixit). God, in His singular care and providence, kept the Scriptures pure in all ages. The object which is Scripture, stands over the subject, the human, as a judge, because God has spoken. This is the foundation that one appeals to when they claim that the Scriptures are the principia for all truth claims and so on. The Scripture does not become Scripture based on the evaluation of an individual, the Scriptures are the Scriptures regardless of what the subject thinks. 

The second view is that the Word of God is authoritative insofar as the subject judges it to be authoritative. God has spoken, but the subject must determine what it is that God has spoken by way of higher and lower criticism. There is no consistent standard that can be applied to authenticate God’s Word, no ultimate standard, so the Bible only really exists subjectively. Not only are translations of God’s Word different, two people reading the same version of God’s Word experience differing levels of authority depending on how much authority the subject has vested in it. Even in the most conservative circles of protestant Christianity, believers only accept the Bible as authoritative in so far as the evidence and opinions of scholars declare it to be trustworthy. In this view it is perfectly acceptable to determine that Luke 23:34 is not God’s Word, or is God’s Word, as the authority of that passage is dependent upon the judgement of the individual. The object, the Scriptures, only have authority in so far as the subject, the human, has approved of its authority. Any one passage of Scripture is not authoritative in itself, it becomes authoritative based on subjective evaluation. There may be a great number of passages that are given authority without much contest based on some external standard, but there is nothing within this methodology that prevents even the least contested passages from being called into question (See Ehrman, Price, Carrier). A passage like John 3:16 is just as safe as any other contested passage, because John 3:16 is only given authority by virtue of the subject. 

The Practical Difference Between the Two Views

The obvious practical difference between the two views is that one is truly consistent in saying that the Scriptures are the principia, and the other is not. Many Christians insert a false dilemma into the conversation by asserting that any and all text-critical work invalidates the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures, or that no text-critical efforts invalidate the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures. This is due to a poor evaluation of different text-critical standards. All throughout time Christians have been used by God as a means of ensuring that the authoritative Word of God is preserved through copying of manuscripts, collating and editing those manuscripts into printed editions, and translating those editions into every common language. The important question to ask then, is “How did God manage to accomplish the preservation of the Scriptures without allowing for the subjective opinions of man to soil its authority?” It is not the correct understanding to say that all text-critical efforts are equal and to then reject the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures because “text-criticism” has been done. It is in this dilemma that many are swayed to unfaithful understandings of the text of Holy Scripture. They say that since text-criticism has been done, the Bible needs to be given authority by text-critical efforts, therefore the Bible must be authoritative by virtue of those text-critical efforts. 

Yet all text-critical efforts are not equal, and any text-critical methodology that assumes that the Bible is given authority by virtue of a text-critical effort is an unfaithful effort at the start. In the modern period, these efforts have been driven by the theology that God’s Word is not authoritative in itself, it becomes authoritative by virtue of some external process. As a result, the doctrine of Scripture has evolved and adapted to the theology of modern textual scholarship. The neo-orthodox say that the Word of God becomes Scripture when the believer experiences it by the power of the Holy Spirit, and those that advocate for the modern critical text say that the Word of God becomes Scripture when a scholar or individual evaluates it highly enough. That is the bedrock for the canon-within-a-canon model,introduced first by Kurt Aland, which says that the books of the Bible may be set in stone, but the readings within those books are not. 

In order for Christians to be consistent in claiming that the Word of God is truly authoritative, they must reject all methods that require constant, ongoing, everchanging standards to evaluate the authenticity of various Biblical texts. It is inconsistent to say that a text could be authoritative today, but not tomorrow. This is exactly the argument that is made when one denies Luke 23:38 or Mark 16:9-20. The authenticity of a passage is liable to change based on the popular opinions of those judging the text. In order to continue supporting such a view, a serious effort to conflate the methods of text-criticism throughout time with the modern methods is required. In doing so, one must first deny the reality that historical text-critical efforts stand at odds with the modern methods, and secondly deny that God’s Word has ever been authoritative in itself. That is to say, that the Word of God has always been authoritative by virtue of something else. There is no problem in this view with rejecting the Reformation era text, as that text platform was authoritative for a time, but is no longer authoritative in the modern period. All meaningful apologetics are completely forfeited by adopting this view. All fundamental truth claims based on the Word of God are given up. In an attempt to justify the modern effort, the whole authority of the Scriptures has been surrendered.   

Conclusion

The textual discussion is far more important than discussing which variants are correct or whether or it is allowable for a Reformed Christian to adopt the modern critical text or the TR. At the core of this conversation is a battle for the authority of God’s Word. Is the Word of God self-authenticating, as the Reformed believed, or is it only authoritative by virtue of some other process, as the modern eclectic view posits? If it is the case that the Scriptures are only authoritative by virtue of some external method, which method is best? Which standard does the church trust to give authority to the Scriptures? The popular opinion today is split between Münster, Cambridge, and various scholars and apologists. The modern view of Scripture does not allow for any one person to have a Bible. Everybody has a different Bible depending on the authority they trust. The number of bibles is infinite, and the massive amount of confusion in the Christian church today is evidence of that. In using the modern standard of subjective authentication of God’s Word, Christians are essentially guaranteeing that the Church will continue to evolve and conform to the world as time passes.

Textual Methodologies & Transmission Narratives

Introduction

In this article, I describe the three distinct categories that exist within the context of the textual discussion. These categories are Textual Methodology, Text Platform, and Translation. A failure to properly recognize these categories as distinct will inevitably result in a worthless conversation wherein one person boldly enters a thread and declares everybody but himself a KJV Onlyist. It is high time that this sort of behavior is escorted out of the confines of Christian dialogue. It is important to recognize that every single Christian has a Textual Methodology, whether they know it or not. A person who utilizes the terminology “KJV Onlyist” for everybody who doesn’t read a modern Bible reveals a lot about the insecurity of their own position. Not a single person approaches the text with a blank slate, and when one fails to acknowledge his tradition, it is extremely likely that that person is blind to his tradition. Never before has blindness been so routinely praised than it has in the modern period. 

The first category that exists within the textual conversation is what I call Textual Methodology. Within the umbrella of this category is the doctrine of Scripture, which includes inspiration, preservation, and transmission history of the text of the New Testament. Every single person who reads, believes in, or comments on the Bible has a doctrine of Scripture. There are two common views of Textual Methodology and transmission narratives that exist today within Reformed Orthodoxy that I will discuss in this article. 

Contending Textual Methodologies and Transmission Histories

Within the context of conservative protestant orthodoxy, there are two major textual methodologies and transmission narratives worth commenting on. These are not the only positions, but the positions that represent Modern Reasoned Eclecticism (NA/UBS) and the Confessional Text (TR).  The first transmission narrative is not built upon a doctrine of inspiration and preservation, but starts from an empirical standpoint. Christians who adopt this narrative then must craft their doctrine of inspiration and preservation around the narrative of modern scholarship retroactively. The Christian articulation of inspiration and preservation within modern textual scholarship says that the original autographs of the New Testament were immediately inspired, but that as time passed, and scribes foolishly copied those autographs, the Scriptures became so corrupt that the people of God no longer had an authentic Bible in their possession. All of the important doctrines were still contained within the Bible, but the actual Bible itself had become hopelessly mutilated. All of the original readings should technically be somewhere within the manuscript tradition, but the people of God have not known what those original readings were for most of the history of the church, and still do not know. Since the goal of the Scriptures is to make men wise unto salvation, the only real doctrines that must be preserved are the “important” ones. 

This corruption most likely occurred sometime around the fourth century, and from the fifth century on, the people of God utilized a text that was heavily edited and smoothed out by scribes. The Orthodox corruption of the Scriptures resulted in the intentional embellishment of Christ’s divinity (expansion of piety), addition of a multitude of passages (Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, John 5:4, Rom. 16:24, etc.), and corrections to the original grammar which was initially choppy and harsh (less harmonious readings). Since the church was chiefly culpable in corrupting the Scriptures, their commentary and opinions on the manuscripts should not be trusted, as they were prone to side with readings that corresponded with the orthodox dogmas which developed since the Christian church came onto the scene. As a result of this understanding of the transmission history of the New Testament manuscripts, the only manuscripts with any real value are the ones that existed prior to this orthodox corruption. Due to this great effort of orthodox tampering, the only manuscripts with any value are the ones that predate this global contamination.

Manuscripts which meet the criteria for this story of transmission are the ones that contain short, choppy, and grammatically harsh readings and do not share a pregeneaological coherence (% similarity in the variants) with the majority of manuscripts.The goal of textual scholarship then is to reconstruct the hypothetical archetype of the manuscripts which predates the orthodox corruption. Since the earliest complete manuscripts date back to the 4th century, that is the farthest back this reconstruction effort can go without too much speculation. So at best, this view will result in a bible that represents the manuscripts which reflect the above criteria and transmission history. The goal is not to find the original text, but rather find the original testimonies of the historical event of the incarnation.There are some within this camp that believe a reconstruction of the Initial Text might as well be as good as original, but the brunt of the highly influential scholars agree that this conclusion is unwarranted with the available data.  

The second major understanding of the transmission history of the New Testament is less popular, but is represented by the views set forth within the 17th century Confessional standards. Many people anachronistically say that the Reformation and Post-Reformation Divines adopted, or would have adopted, the first narrative (Such as TurretinFan and those like him), but I have yet to see that demonstrated in any way whatsoever. The doctrine of the framers of the confessions say that the original autographs of the New Testament were immediately inspired, and that the inspired readings were passed along within the manuscript tradition and kept pure in all ages. Due to the covenantal purpose of the Scriptures, namely that they are the means God has ordained to make men wise unto salvation, the preservation of God’s Word is intimately tied to God’s purpose of having a people unto Himself. The Scriptures are self-authenticating (αυτοπιστος), which means that within the Scriptures themselves there are markers which allow men to receive the readings which are authentic in every single age. Not only are all of the important doctrines preserved, but the very words themselves are preserved and recognizable by the internal criteria set forth in Scripture. There was never a point at any time in history where the Scriptures were so hopelessly corrupted that the global church did not know which copies were authentic, or of high quality. There certainly were manuscripts which were created by unfaithful men and heretics, but those manuscripts were never copied or used much by the vast majority of churches in the Christian world. 

That is not to say that one manuscript came down through the manuscript tradition perfect. There were thousands of scribal errors which affected every manuscript in one way or another. Yet, due to the covenantal nature of the Scriptures and God’s singular care and providence in keeping them pure, there was never a time where these scribal errors and corruptions were so prevalent that the people of God did not know which reading was true or false. Any major or minor corruption could be easily identified by comparing one manuscript to a manuscript of great quality, as defined by the theologians and reception of the manuscript by the people of God. In every generation, there were manuscripts, codices, and translations of these original texts which were esteemed highly by the people of God and used for all matters of faith and practice. That does not mean that literally every believer in history had access to these authentic copies personally, but that these authentic copies were transmitted through faithful churches and were generally available to the people of God that attended these faithful churches. It is important not to impose modern standards of availability of literature onto a culture that was limited by hand copying written texts. 

In the 16th century, new technology (printing press) was implemented in this transmission process which allowed for a wider distribution of Biblical texts. This changed everything. For the first time, Bibles were made available to a wider audience, and the people of God had a greater amount of access to the Biblical texts than ever before in history. The people of God utilized this technology to create printed editions of the approved copies that had been passed down through the manuscript tradition in every age. With the advent of this new technology, hand written copies of the New Testament were retired to libraries and museums, and the printed text of the Word of God became the new standard for the church. This, alongside of the protestant Reformation, allowed translations to be made from these printed editions and distributed to the people of God in their mother tongue without harassment or persecution from the Roman Catholic church. In the Post-Reformation period, all commentaries, theological works, and translations were made from these printed texts.  

Conclusion

The two narratives detailed above represent the different narratives presented by Modern Reasoned Eclecticism and the Confessional Text position, respectively. In adopting the Modern Critical Methodology, one must also adopt the transmission narrative that goes with it. This conversation is far more complex than a debate over whether the ESV is better than the KJV. Everybody that has formed an opinion on the text of the New Testament has a doctrine of inspiration and preservation, and a transmission narrative to go with it. The unfortunate reality is that Christians have been instructed to unthinkingly avoid these foundational conversations. What is worse, is that there is a great effort to convince people that the modern critical axioms are historically Reformed. 

It should be apparent, that the pressing conversation in the textual discussion is not whether or not the KJV is bad, it is whether or not one can defend a Scriptural doctrine of inspiration and preservation with various articulations of the modern transmission narrative. The chief concern should be whether or not one’s doctrine of inspiration and preservation comports with Scripture. The secondary concern should be whether or not one’s transmission narrative comports with the reality that God has preserved His Word. The rest of the conversation flows from these realities. To the Christian who insists on continuing to make this conversation about the KJV and KJV Onlyism, I challenge you to inspect your Textual Methodology first before deciding to berate other Christians for reading a Bible you don’t like. It may be possible that many Christians have not counted the cost of adopting the modern theories, methodologies, and texts prior to throwing their weight around in the conversation. 

Textual Methodology, Text Platforms, and Translation

Introduction

The conversation of textual criticism, which is properly called textual scholarship, has made its way to popular forums, Facebook threads, and even churches. Perhaps this has been the case for some time, but it seems that there has been a major uptick in people who have expressed interest in the topic. Oftentimes terminology muddles the conversation, so the goal of this article is to provide proper category distinctions that will hopefully bring more clarity at a popular level. Due to popular level podcasts, articles, and books, the average onlooker of the conversation has been taught to conflate the various categories within the conversation. A great example of this is the constant confusion between translation methodology and text-critical methodology. Despite common thought, the focus of this conversation is not primarily concerned with which Bible translation one uses. That is simply the practical implementation of one’s viewpoint on the topic. At a basic level, this conversation can be simplified into the three categories which are 1) textual methodology, 2) text platform, and 3) translation. 

Textual Methodology, Text Platforms, and Translations

The methodology one chooses is directly related to the doctrine of Scripture, namely inspiration and preservation. At its foundational level, a person’s understanding of the nature of Scripture drives all other opinions regarding the matter. The two competing thoughts right now are whether Scripture has been generally or partially preserved, or particularly preserved. This methodology flows into which underlying texts one believes to be the “best” or “original”. It can be helpful to discuss the differences between text platforms, but ultimately the conversation comes down to how one answers the question, “Has the Bible been preserved or not?” The final category is simply the practical implementation of the first two categories, and results in which Bible one reads. The major methodologies are modern reasoned eclecticism, equitable eclecticism, majority text or Byzantine priority, and the Confessional Text position (Traditional Text, Ecclesiastical Text, etc.). Each of these methodologies have their own canons and systems which are distinct from each other. The final category, translation, is not technically a text-critical category, but at a popular level, it inevitably comes up.

Translation methodology in itself is partially related to the first two categories, because all translations must make employ of a base text, sometimes called a “text platform”. That base text is chosen based on theological and methodological reasons. At its foundations, however, translation is simply taking a text from one language to another. That means that a translation can use an extremely accurate original text, and still be of poor quality, depending on the translation committee’s methodology and knowledge of both the original text and target language. That is why many who believe that the Modern Critical Text is the best can still reject the NLT or NIV as a sound translation in place for the ESV or NASB. 

Many popular level discussions simplify the conversation to “KJV Onlyists” vs. the rest of the world, but that simply does not work if one wants to engage charitably in the conversation. There is a depth of nuance that contributes to the discussion, and many people read the KJV for reasons completely independent of their understanding of textual scholarship. The same can be said for people who read the ESV, NASB, NIV, or any other translation for that matter. If I were to ask somebody which translation they read, and they responded, “I only read the ESV. It’s the translation that scholars trust, and it’s easy for me to understand”, would it be fair for me to call them an “ESV Onlyist”? Even if somebody had an informed opinion on textual methodology and decided to only read the ESV as a result of that, would it be fair for me to call that person an “ESV Onlyist”? No, it wouldn’t. Is it fair for somebody in one of the other methodological camps to call somebody who defends the modern critical text a “Modern Critical Text Onlyist”? Again, no it wouldn’t. Titles like these only serve to add unnecessary hostility, division, and confusion into the conversation.

It is especially important to understand these category distinctions, considering a great effort has been made to intentionally conflate them for one reason or another. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that due to popular level presentations on the topic, the vast majority of Christians have actually been instructed to make these conflations. This is evidenced in the fact that most people, including some scholars, do not know the difference between a majority text position and a confessional text position, or that the KJV and ESV are translated from different text platforms. Popular level literature has actually instructed Christians to define anybody who doesn’t read a modern Bible as a “KJV Onlyist”, even those who don’t read the KJV. At a popular level, Christians do not understand the difference between textual methodology and translation methodology, or even understand the methodologies being employed to produce the Nestle-Aland/UBS printed texts that modern Bibles are translated from. For most Christians, the conversation has been framed as “KJV Onlyism” vs. the “correct view”. 

Conclusion

The kind of argumentation employed to defend the texts produced by modern reasoned eclecticism often introduces a terrible amount of confusion into the conversation that disallows for any sort of meaningful discussion. My goal in writing this article is to provide clarity by offering some important category distinctions. The first category is textual methodology, which is based upon an individual’s doctrines of inspiration and preservation. The second category is text platform, which is selected based on an individual’s textual methodology. The final category is translation methodology, which is the practical implementation of the first two categories. By allowing for these category distinctions, a productive conversation should be possible.    

Count the Cost, Christian

A Sea of Doubt

A component of critical thinking that has unfortunately been lost in the modern period is the ability to analyze the cost of making an argument. Few stop to consider what else must be true if the claim they are making is true. An argument does not exist in a vacuum, it is the product of a system. Claims regarding the Holy Scriptures are often made in this fashion, as though one can adopt a postmodern view of the Scriptures without any impact to the historical doctrines of inspiration and preservation. When one wades into the shallows of an ocean at low tide, he might find that all is right – the water is cool, the current easy, and he feels safe with his feet  planted in the soft sand. But every tide has an ebb and flow, and no ocean at low tide ever stays shallow for long. Lying beyond the safety of the shore is an undertow and the deep murky depths, and while one can see his feet in the shallows, with each ebb and flow the water darkens until he feels his feet leave that soft sand. 

Making an argument without counting the cost and considering the ends  is the same as venturing into the ocean at low tide and believing that it will stay safe and traversable. Underneath every shallow argument is a tide of consequences that will eventually rip the feet out from under those who make them. Such is the case when it comes to the textual discussion. Many arguments seem to work until the tide shifts and carries with it the children playing in the shallows. Nobody truly knows how deep the ocean is until they are separated from the shore. Under every argument is an ocean, and ignoring the tide for the sake of winning an argument only puts those carelessly playing in the sand in danger. And when the tide rises, it should surprise no one when yellow boats inscribed with the names “SS Barth” and “SS Bultmann” come to rescue the floundering children. 

Counting the Cost of Playing in the Low Tide

There are some important, practical realities to consider before saying “I want to know what Paul wrote!” The first question that one must ask is, “What method am I using to determine what Paul wrote?” One must take careful inventory of the state of the ground underfoot. Countless Christians have firmly planted their feet on the ground of modern textual scholarship without performing this analysis. They have not counted the cost. So when somebody standing on such ground rejects, let’s say, Mark 16:9-20, they do so without understanding why they are doing it, or where that rejection leads. 

So let’s examine the ground upon which this argument stands. The argument begins with manuscript evidence. Particularly, three manuscripts. Two of these manuscripts are said to have been created in the fourth century, and the other in the middle period. It then goes on to explain why these manuscripts are more valuable than the more than 1,000 manuscripts available that have the ending in it. It argues that these manuscripts are the best because they are the oldest surviving manuscripts. In the shallows of the low tide, this argument seems good enough, but what lies beneath the surface? 

First, like every argument for the modern critical text, it starts from an evidentiary standpoint. Even if the person making the argument has faith, the substance of the argument itself is one that is agnostic to the belief system of the one making it. That of course is the appeal. Yet, underneath this argument lies a deeper, more foundational starting point. In order to make this kind of argument, one first has to start with the assumption that an element outside of the Bible has the authority to authenticate this reading or that. The authority of the Bible rests on external validation. That is to say that the Bible has no authority in and of itself. It only becomes authoritative when an external element determines it to be so. Further down, this argument makes another assumption, that an empirical standard has the ability to make such a determination. This is not the case, however. Even the earliest manuscripts are still hundreds of years after the authorial event of the New Testament. And since the originals are lost, there is no way to actually prove that Mark 16:9-20 was or wasn’t there in the original manuscript according the modern critical standard. There is nothing to test the hypothesis against. 

So the standard that is being used is not capable of determining originality one way or another. At the deepest level of this argument lies the most fundamental starting point. If the longer ending of Mark is not original, then the people of God had the wrong Bible for over a thousand years, as almost every single manuscript containing Mark 16 has the passage, and the commentaries and quotations of the passage span from the Ancient fathers through the post Reformation period. That is to say, that the Bible was not preserved, and the people of God picked the wrong Bible, copied the wrong Bible, and used the wrong Bible. Thus, from this perspective, God may have inspired the original manuscripts, but the people of God never knew what exactly He inspired. One can assert originality from this perspective, but the argument from evidence is completely agnostic to religious views of inspiration and preservation. 

At its very core, modern textual criticism is completely agnostic, even hostile to opinions of faith. So when one makes a completely evidential claim to the authority of a given passage of Scripture, he is doing so from an agnostic starting point. The modern critical method does not care about religious feelings. When somebody adopts this starting point, they hand over the ability to make any sort of claim of divine authorship, because the Author has no authority within this system. This is what lies beyond the shallow tidewaters in the murky depths. All modern text-critical arguments begin with assuming that the Bible requires external validation and then adopts a method that cannot validate that argument in any meaningful way. Don’t believe me? Find a modern critical scholar who has “found the original”. As to whether or not the shifting modern text is speaking divinely to somebody, that remains in the mind of the subject, the person reading that text. The Bible is not divine because it is the Word of God, it becomes the Word of God by way of external examination or internal subjective experience. In and of itself, the Bible is simply a man made product that might be close to the original. 

The Shallows at High Tide

Isn’t there another option? Is it possible that God chose to preserve His Word imperfectly? Isn’t it possible that God never desired to give His Word to His people completely, or with absolute certainty? This is the argument made by people who are standing on the shore, watching the scholars play in the water. They are only comfortable making the arguments from evidence because they haven’t felt the crushing weight of the ocean bend them in half. They haven’t seen the tops of their feet disappear as the tide rolled in, or felt the darkness of the water reach up to them from the ocean floor. They haven’t considered the breadth of the deep. Or maybe they have, and haven’t realized they are drowning yet. They only know the shape of the ocean from afar, and that is why they are comfortable trusting the opinions of those in the water who say, “The ocean is deep, but not that deep. I wouldn’t go in if I were you. Just take my word for it.” The Christians on the warm sand see the crowd of heads nodding in agreement, and carry on as usual. Yet everybody bobbing in that water knows that there is a 300 foot gap between their science and the ocean floor, and the honest ones will say that they haven’t seen the bottom and never will. They look over to the yellow life boats called “SS Barth” and “SS Bultmann”  and “SS Vatican” and are grateful that those boats will save any Christian who decides to wander in as deep as they have. 

Count the Cost, Christian

The modern critical methodology cannot offer certainty, and it does not claim to offer certainty. It ends where it starts and starts where it ends. It can only do as much as its principles allow, and its principles cannot be applied to manuscripts it does not have. So does the modern critical text proponent have any right to claim whether or not the longer ending of Mark is original or an orthodox corruption? No, they don’t. That would require stretching the data farther than it is able to go on its own, which many do, betraying the ground they stand on. 

Count the cost, Christian. Does the Bible need to be authenticated externally, or is the Bible self-authenticating? If the Bible is not authentic in and of itself, are you willing to pay the price that comes with it? There is a reason the Reformers rallied around Sola Scriptura. They had paid the price of for too long. They had seen the logical end of a Bible imbued with papal authority. If you’re so committed to a Bible that requires external authentication, tell me, who would you have authenticate it? Are you willing to go down the road to Rome in the name of “Reformation”?

There is another path that avoids the water altogether. Ignore those who say that believing in God’s perfectly preserved Word is “Pious and sanctimonious”. That is not the voice of your shepherd. There is a better path, one that is well traveled, far away from the ocean of uncertainty. It does not start with evidence, but the fact that God has spoken. It does not rely on popular opinion and the machinations of scholars. The Word of God is an authority in itself. Hurry to the shore, out of the water, and onto the beaten path. The Word of God has not been lost. It does not need to be reconstructed. We know what Paul said because God preserved it. Receive the text that the fathers of your faith received and declare, “Thy word is truth”. 

Further Reading

Two Different Texts

Introduction

In my articles, I frequently comment that the Modern Critical Text and the Traditional Text represent two different forms of the text of the New Testament. Some disagree, and use this website to demonstrate that they are not that different. The site is helpful as a comparative tool between the ESV and KJV, though it is not technically a comparison of the Critical Text and Traditional Text. First, it is a comparison of translations, which means it is not comparing Greek texts, but translations of those texts. So while it gives the reader a general idea of the differences, translational choices may obscure the actual differences between the two underlying texts. Second, it does not fully compare the Critical Text and the Traditional Text as it includes comparisons of passages in a way that downplays the differences. An example would be that the comparative tool includes the Pericope Adulterae in the Critical Text, as well as excludes the Longer Ending of Mark in both texts. This gives the average reader the impression that there are really no differences. A full comparison would include the verses in the TR up to verse 20 in Mark, and exclude John 7:53-8:11 from the Critical Text. I would expect that the tool would include these differences, as well as clarify that it is a comparison between two translations and not between the TR and CT. 

Are We Discussing Two Different Text Forms?

The exclusion of certain verses for comparison highlights an important fact: in order to say that the Modern Critical Text and Traditional Text are essentially the same, one must ignore or downplay the fact that they are not the same in certain important places. It is because of these important places that there is disagreement at all. If the differences were that minor, we would be having a conversation over translation methodology and that’s about as deep as it would go. That is not to say that somebody cannot be saved by reading a Bible translated from the Modern Critical Text, but a careful examination of the two underlying texts reveals that they are different. One can argue how significant these differences are, but the fact remains, there are differences which distinguish the two texts. 

That being said, from a certain perspective, modern Bibles and traditional Bibles are both Bibles. They both contain the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, and they mostly contain the same content. Thus the important conversation should be centered around two topics – the difference between underlying texts and translation methodology. In creating a comparison tool that is supposed to compare the TR and the CT, and then using translations of these texts as a point of comparison, the two categories of text and translation are blended. It is interesting to say that the two texts are essentially the same, because if that were the case I’m not sure anybody would be seriously having this discussion at all. It is because  these two texts are so different that there is even a conversation. The existence of these two opposing positions on the text of the New Testament refutes the idea that the texts are the same. 

I am not saying that sound doctrine cannot be taught from a modern Bible such as the ESV or NASB, just that the underlying texts of modern Bibles are different than that of traditional Bibles such as the KJV. Many sound Biblical teachers employ modern Bibles in their ministry and are not heretics. The problem is that the standard for judging a Bible has been set at “can sound doctrine be taught from it?” If this was the standard, we would have to throw out every Bible, because false doctrine is readily taught from all translations. This standard is somewhat arbitrary and obfuscates the point of the discussion entirely. An orthodox understanding of the Trinity can be brought out of the New World Translation (in fact this is a great apologetic tool), but that doesn’t mean that Protestants should read the New World Bible. Thus, the standard of, “Can all the doctrines be proved from this translation?” is not a meaningful standard for determining the quality of a text or translation. Thus the conversation is rightfully seated in discussing the authenticity of the underlying texts used for translation.      

Two Different Text Forms

If the Modern Critical Text and Traditional Text were really as similar as is claimed, then there would be no discussion at all. It would be as simple as answering the question, “which Bible is the best translation of the Greek?” It would simply be a conversation over vocabulary choices and whether or not formal (KJV, NASB, ESV) or dynamic (NIV) equivalence is better. In admitting that there is indeed a difference, the conversation of determining how significant those differences are can take place in a productive manner. That being said, what about these two texts makes them “two different text forms?”

The primary difference has to do with the actual Greek manuscripts, not a difference between the translational choices of the KJV and ESV. The Modern Critical Text in its popular printed form (NA/UBS) is based largely on Codex Vaticanus, a fourth century Uncial Manuscript which is stored at the Vatican. All of the major differences can generally be found within this manuscript or Codex Sinaiticus. These are the two manuscripts referred to in modern Bibles as “earliest and best”. The Vatican Codex was first made use of in text critical efforts when Desidarius Erasmus consulted it in his production of his Greek and Latin New Testaments. Erasmus rejected the readings, however, claiming that they seemed to be back translations of corrupted Latin versional readings rather than being copied from a Greek manuscript. Frederick Nolan, a 19th century theologian and linguist, writes this regarding Erasmus and the Vatican Codex.

“With respect to Manuscripts, it is indisputable that he [Erasmus] was acquainted with every variety which is known to us; having distributed them into two principal classes, one of which corresponds with the Complutensian edition, the other with the Vatican manuscript. And he has specified the positive grounds on which he received the one and rejected the other” (Nolan, Frederick.  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament. 413, 414). 

Nolan also says regarding the Vatican Codex, ““The affinity existing between the Vatican manuscript and the Vulgate is so striking, as to have induced Dr. Bentley and M. Westein to class them together” (Ibid. 61).  

The first major use of this manuscript in the modern period was by Westcott and Hort, who primarily employed Vaticanus and Sinaiticus as a base text to produce their Greek New Testament in 1881. This is the text that the American Standard Version was translated from, which eventually gave birth to the Revised Standard Version and finally the English Standard Version. These manuscripts would eventually be classified as Alexandrian, based on the region in Egypt where they are thought to have originated (though recent scholarship has revisited this idea). Out of the close to 6,000 manuscripts available today, these Alexandrian manuscripts represent less than fifty. The vast majority of manuscripts represent a different text form, traditionally called the Byzantine Text Platform. The Textus Receptus follows the Byzantine text more closely than the Alexandrian text. So while one might make a case that the Alexandrian and Byzantine Texts are similar enough to both be considered a form of the Bible, these texts are distinct enough to be identified as separate classes of manuscripts, and thus different forms of Bibles. 

Even if one were to make a case that the Alexandrian Texts and Byzantine Texts were “close enough”, two major points of comparison stands between them that sets them apart entirely – the Longer Ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) and The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11). That is a total of 23 verses that are simply missing from the Alexandrian texts in two places that are present in the Byzantine texts. Even if one believes the modern claim that the Alexandrian texts are “earliest and best”, it does not follow to say that these are the same text form. These texts also exclude John 5:4, Romans 16:24, and others. Total, there are enough texts different to exceed the number of verses in the entire book of Jude. If these are so similar, I do not see a reason that the Alexandrian texts have been classed in a different category than the majority of manuscripts. 

Conclusion

The goal of this article is to support the claim that the Modern Critical Text and the Traditional Text are indeed two forms of the New Testament. They may both be considered a New Testament, but they certainly are not the same New Testament. The Modern Critical Text does not include an appearance account in all four Gospels, and is missing a number of verses when compared to the majority of manuscripts. Additionally, the Modern Critical Text represents a handful of manuscripts which were produced around the third and fourth centuries, and do not appear to be copied after that point in time. 

There are two major schools of thought as to what these Alexandrian Texts are to the greater manuscript tradition. In the Modern Critical school of thought, they are the earliest texts that the rest of the manuscripts evolved from. In the Confessional Text school of thought, they are an aberrant text stream that was not copied past the fourth century. These two forms may have spawned at the beginning of the same river, but by the third and fourth century they split and headed in different directions. The Alexandrian split seems to have met its end shortly after that split, if the thousands of manuscripts available today are any indication. That is why focusing on translational differences between the KJV and ESV is not the primary concern for those who reject modern Bibles. If the Alexandrian form of the text is truly an aberrant stream, then the Modern Critical Text is not truly the “earliest and best”, it is a strange blip which disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Hopefully this sheds light on why those in the Confessional Text camp do not read modern Bibles. Translation methodology certainly has a role in the discussion, but a primary reason for siding with traditional Bibles has to do with the rejection of the texts modern Bibles use in translation. 

A Response to Brother Mark Ward

Introduction

First I want to acknowledge and commend the irenic spirit of Dr. Mark Ward as he presented a refutation of the position which he calls “Confessional Bibliology” in his lecture posted on September 27, 2019. For those that are readers of my blog, I have referred to this position as “The Confessional Text Position”, and I believe that Confessional Bibliology is an appropriate and charitable label, over and above “Textual Traditionalism” or “KJV Onlyism”.[EDIT: Ward has decided to call this position “KJV Only” anyway. We can’t all be winners.] It is important to remember that this is an intrafaith dialogue. I hope that my handling of his lecture will rise to the same level of integrity as brother Ward. Dr. Ward’s presentation is thorough, scholarly, and is befitting of a Christian, unlike many similar presentations. This is evident in that he freely discusses Pastor Jeff Riddle and Pastor Truelove without character defamation, misrepresentation, or name calling. I do acknowledge that some have treated Dr. Ward uncharitably in various groups, and I want to point out that I have had nothing but positive interactions with him (though brief). It is clear that he is a dear brother in the Lord, despite our disagreement in this one area. 

That being said, I do see some potential problems with his presentation that I would like to address. My goal is to emphasize, like Dr. Ward seems to do, that this conversation primarily finds its application pastorally, and not text-critically. This is not about being right and defeating each other, it is about giving confidence to Christians that they have God’s Word. As a pastor, my pure intention is to provide a position that can accomplish that goal. All of the text-critical work in the world is without use if our hearts are not in the first place focused on instilling men and women with confidence in their Bible, reassuring them that every word they read is “Thus saith the Lord”. The main focus of my critique is that the presentation proceeds backwards. It begins at a surface level and then stays there, brushing over the fundamental issue which divides the two camps so definitively.

Do the Minor differences between the CT and TR Give Cause for Abandoning the TR?  

In Dr. Ward’s presentation, there was a major effort to highlight the differences within the printed editions of the Received Text, rather than discussing the major differences between the Received Text and Critical Text. These major differences result in the form of the two texts being entirely different. I will argue that downplaying the difference within the Received Text and the Critical Text does not frame the discussion in its proper place, and that makes it difficult to interact with the nuances of the presentation in a meaningful way. That is because the problem is not initially about the minor differences within printed texts, it is about the fact that these two texts represent entirely different Bibles and two different methodologies.

Dr. Ward’s approach neglects to highlight the implications to the doctrine of preservation by focusing on the “jot and tittle” component of the Confessional Text position, which certainly deserves to be fleshed out further down the line. He rightfully comments that the missing sections at the end of Mark and in John 8 are a “serious threat” to the critical text. This seems like an appropriate problem to tackle prior to getting into the minutiae, which Dr. Ward carefully does in his presentation. Given that we both believe God has preserved His Word, it seems imperative to answer how one can uphold a meaningful doctrine of preservation while affirming two text platforms which disagree in major ways. If both sides can cross the bridge and agree that this poses difficulties to even the most loose definitions of preservation, there may be a great opportunity for a fruitful discussion about minor variations at some point from a believing perspective. 

Which is to say, that it is problematic to Dr. Ward’s critique to insist that God preserved two forms of the Bible. I argue frequently that the only reason there is so much tension in this discussion is the fact that modern critical text advocates continue to present the smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts as “earliest and best”, despite no evidence for such a claim other than they are the oldest surviving manuscripts. Even modern textual scholarship has demonstrated that original readings can indeed present themselves in later manuscripts.

If the handful of these idiosyncratic texts are viewed as tertiary within the manuscript tradition (or not properly seated within the tradition at all), this conversation becomes much more simple. The rise of modern textual scholarship has introduced this problem to the church by allowing for manuscript types which have been rejected historically to be valued so highly. It is important to acknowledge that the Received Text did not introduce this problem, modern scholarship did when they declared that the Reformation era text needed to be thrown out. A consistent application of Dr. Ward’s presentation should conclude in the Received Text and the KJV being dismissed wholesale, as it represents an entirely different text form. 

Since Dr. Ward did not suggest that, it is important to understand that textual decision making is done from a completely different perspective between the Confessional Bibliology group and modern textual scholarship. It is easily demonstrated that the base manuscripts from which the modern eclectic text and the Received Text are built on represent a different form altogether. So the difference is not in the amount of data necessarily, but in the methodology itself which accepts this data into the manuscript tradition. Much time is spent discussing whether or not the Post-Reformation Divines would have accepted this new data, and here is where Dr. Ward and I disagree fundamentally. I do not believe that the Post-Reformation Divines would have adopted the modern critical perspective, even if presented with the new data.

Francis Turretin comments on what Dr. Ward presents as a chief problem for the Confessional Text position – the problem of variants as it pertains to “every jot and tittle”. 

“A corruption differs from a variant reading. We acknowledge that many variant readings occur both in the Old and New Testaments arising from a comparison of different manuscripts, but we deny corruption (at least corruption that is universal)” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol.I, 111). 

So it is not chiefly a problem with variants, but the actual text form and the modern perspective that certain passages have been totally corrupted. Turretin continues. 

“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of adulteress (Jn. 8:1-11), for although it is lacking in the Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek manuscripts. Not 1 Jn. 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it, as Sixtus Senensis acknowledges: “they have been the words of never-doubted truth, and contained in all the Greek copies from the very times of the apostles” (Bibliotheca sancta [1575], 2:298). Not Mk. 16 which may have been wanting in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ” (Ibid. 115). 

Turretin explicitly mentions “several copies in the time of Jerome”, which happens to be the time that Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are said to have been produced. Whether he is explicitly referring to these two manuscripts or not, the unavoidable reality is that these two copies represent the form of text he is talking about – namely those missing those three variants. The minor variants discussed in Dr. Ward’s presentation are not that of a mutilating nature, but the two variants he lists as problematic certainly are.  So to accept manuscripts and readings from manuscripts bearing this form is to depart methodologically in a major way. The conversation of which jots and tittles may be profitable if this can be admitted, as the amount of jots and tittles to be discussed would shrink massively. 

Does Confessional Bibliology Reject Decision Making? 

In short, no. Those who advocate for this position do not balk at the “Which TR?” question, because it fundamentally misses the point of the argument itself. I will acknowledge, however, the validity of the question from his perspective. While Dr. Ward provides a thorough presentation of the 11 types of variations between the printed editions of the Received Text, the conclusions of his argument do not demonstrate that the effort of modern textual scholarship is in the same category as Reformation era textual scholarship.

He is absolutely correct in saying that variations exist between printed editions of the TR, and points out that there are just as many editions of the Nestle-Aland text (with many more to come!). The most important point to interact with however, is his critique that the KJV is not its own form of the TR. Dr. Ward wrongly assumes that ultimately, when the conversation is stripped down to its bare components, the Confessional Bibliology argument is the same as the KJV Only argument (Excluding Ruckman). I will note that I do not consider this to be any sort of serious error, just a matter of nuance that I believe was overlooked. Confessional Bibliology advocates read other translations than the KJV, so it is a bit of a misrepresentation to call them KVJO. It would be the same as calling somebody who prefers the ESV and reads the ESV an ESV Onlyist, despite viewing the NASB as a fine translation of the critical text.

While there are some within the Confessional Bibliology group that believe that some form of textual criticism is still necessary, most, as Dr. Ward points out, agree that the Scrivener edition of the Received Text, which represents the textual decisions of the KJV translators, is “the” Received Text. This is due to the nature of the argument from God’s providence, as well as exposure of the text to the people of God as it happened in history. This argument does not seem as far-fetched given that it is not hedged within the context of modern critical scholarship, though I am fully aware of the critiques of this position. It’s not as though the KJV translators were moved along by the Holy Spirit, or reinspired, but that their textual decisions represented a century’s work of scholarship, dialogue, and corporate reception of certain texts within the Received Text corpus. This is made plain and evident in the vast number of commentaries and theological works which use the Received Text of the Reformation.

In short, the Scrivener text is not the best representation of the Received Text by virtue of the King James Translation team, but rather by virtue of the reception of those readings by the people of God. Were it the case that those readings were rejected, like readings Erasmus examined from the Vatican codex, we might be right in following the argumentation of Dr. Ward. The fact stands, that not only did Erasmus reject those readings, but all of the Reformed textual scholars and theologians who came after him did so as well, even commenting on manuscripts missing the ending of Mark. Jan Krans notes the fundamental difference between modern textual scholarship and the method of Beza in his work, Beyond What is Written.

“In Beza’s view of the text, the Holy Spirit speaks through the biblical authors. He even regards the same Spirit’s speaking through the mouth of the prophets and the evangelist as a guarantee of the agreement between both…If the Spirit speaks in and through the Bible, the translator and critic works within the Church. Beza clearly places all his text critical and translational work in an ecclesiastical setting. When he proposes the conjecture ”  (‘wild pears’) for (‘locusts’) in Matt 3:4, he invokes “the kind permission of the Church” (328,329).

The point is this – it is not that the Confessional Bibliology group rejects textual decision making, they reject textual decision making in the context of modern textual scholarship. Within the Confessional Bibliology camp, there are vibrant and healthy discussions on this matter which has resulted in the mass adoption of the Scrivener text. The problem occurs when this is conflated with Reconstructionist Textual Scholarship, which, when applied to a text, results in its complete deconstruction and devaluation. The conversation simply cannot happen in a healthy way in a context that takes 15 miles when given an inch.

This is chiefly exemplified in the fact that a decision made on a variant that does not affect meaning is compared to removing 11 verses from Scripture. Categorically, those are not the same thing. I appreciate Dr. Ward’s care in presenting the minor variations, but those are not the problem at a fundamental level (Unless one chooses to make it a problem unnecessarily). That is also assuming that a decision cannot be made, or has not been made on the handful of significant variations that exist within the editions of the Received Text. Had the KJV translators made a printed edition of the textual decisions they chose, this conversation likely would not be happening. The claim that the text as it is represented by the 1881 Scrivener text is an “English Greek New Testament” would not be taken seriously. This was the conclusion of Dr. Hills as well, that the textual decisions of the KJV can be rightfully considered its own “TR”, which Dr. Ward acknowledges, but seems to disagree with. 

Conclusion

I appreciate that Dr. Ward has seated the conversation within the context of the believing church. This is a huge upgrade from the vast majority of the discussion which exists in the world of secular scholarship. The goal of this article is not to slam Dr. Ward or say that I have refuted him necessarily, but rather to point out that there is a major stumbling block standing in the way of bridge-crossing. I will argue that a simple critique of Dr. Ward’s argument is that it fails to recognize the two distinct text forms held by each respective position. If we were dealing with one text form, with minor variations, we might be able to readily understand Turretin and Owen’s commentary on the text better, and Dr. Ward’s presentation might be more applicable to those who subscribe to Confessional Bibliology. But since during that era, the church rejected manuscripts like Vaticanus, and in the modern era the Bibles are all built on top of Vaticanus, the effort of bridge-crossing may be more tedious. Until the people of God seriously consider the direction of modern textual scholarship and its wholesale abandonment of the Original Text for the Initial Text, it may be difficult to find the kind of agreement Dr. Ward desires in his presentation.

At the end of this analysis, I hope that all can see that while there is a fundamental disagreement that may stand in the way of bridge-crossing, it is not so great that we cannot treat each other with brotherly kindness and respect which is fitting for those who claim Christ. The fact stands that not all Bibles are created equal, and despite modern Bibles generically looking like Bibles made from the Received Text, they depart in major places which do indeed effect doctrine, like John 1:18 and Mark 16:9-20. It would also be a different conversation if both forms of the text were stable, but the modern text is not. The direction of the modern text-critical effort is only speeding up in the direction of uncertainty as the ECM is implemented (see 2 Peter 3:10 and the number of diamonds in the Catholic Epistles of the NA28). I’ll end with this quote by textual scholar DC Parker, which I find to accurately assess the nature of the modern critical text.  

 “The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text.”

For more resources:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/text-and-canon-conference-tickets-58685137827