Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

This article is the third in a series reviewing Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. 


In the last article, I addressed Ward’s evaluation of what is lost if the King James Bible is retired. In this article, I will review Chapter 2 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, where Ward readies his audience for the pinnacle of his argument – false friends. If you follow Ward online, you know that the thrust of his work is identifying false friends and making the case that this is a primary reason to put down the KJV. He begins chapter 2 by proposing that the NIV is the probable successor to the KJV based on sales figures for the popular translation. The reader should note that sales figures are not a reason to adopt a translation. Christians should be concerned with whether or not the translation accurately translates the providentially preserved text from the original into a target language. Ward begins to develop his case for retiring the KJV in this chapter further by saying, “we’d better have very good reasons for giving it [KJV] up” (Ibid., 17). This gives the impression to the reader that Ward is about to present an argument that justifies all of the downsides to retiring the KJV. According to Ward, this reason is that people cannot understand it. It is “foreign and ancient.” As I noted in the introduction of my book review series, Ward’s own research and anecdotal experience seems to contradict this fact, but we will see how he develops this thought as we get further into the review. Throughout the work so far, this continues to be his driving argument. 

“So if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem—the most significant problem a translation can have: What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore?”  

Ibid., 18-19

Ward introduces his primary argument with a huge “if”. He proposes that if it is the case that the KJV is too difficult to read, then we should retire it. As the reader will see, support for Ward’s argument is entirely dependent personal experience and anecdotes. He even admits that the KJV “falls in the same category, broadly speaking, in which our English belongs.” So far the reader has learned that 55% of English Bible readers use the KJV, Ward grew up reading the KJV, and that the King’s English falls into the same category of English that we speak today. The KJV is not old, middle, or Elizabethan English – it is early modern English written in a syntax and vocabulary that matches closely with the original languages. That is why the Trinitarian Bible Society has labeled it, “Biblical English.” Ward again drives home the point that, “I could not only understand but reproduce the major features of KJV diction as a young child.” Despite writing this multiple times in the book so far, Ward introduces his reader to yet another paradox, which I will highlight below. In this chapter, Ward discusses his transition from advocating for the KJV to advocating against the KJV. I will organize my review of chapter 2 into Ward’s anecdotes, his narrative, and his problem. 


According to Ward, two major life experiences led to his shift in thinking. The first is that Ward has spent more time than the average Christian studying the Bible in various translations. The second is that he has spent years sharing the Gospel. In his experience, he argues that learning the English of the KJV is not a reasonable expectation to impose on the average Christian. Here’s the plot twist: He then admits that he actually has trouble reading certain passages in the KJV. After repeatedly stating that he understood the KJV growing up, he now says he actually cannot. He recalls an experience at a summer camp, where not one person of 10,000, pastors included, could understand the phrase, “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” This is a perfect example where Matthew Henry could have helped Ward understand this “cryptic” passage. “Do not envy them their prosperity.” 

Ward attempts to convince his reader, with anecdote, that the passage is impossible to understand in the KJV. Gill, Calvin, and Henry all share the same opinion on the verse, so perhaps that is more of a testimony to the quality of modern scholarship than anything else. I’m more concerned that there were seminary trained pastors and college students at this camp that couldn’t understand this passage. It seems that somebody at that camp should have had access to a commentary, at least. Ward ends by presenting his reader with a strange hypothetical conversation between a child and an adult, where the child is presented as a guru of sorts by saying, “Well why didn’t the KJV translators just use the word I think they should have used?” This all contributes to the narrative that drives the primary argument of Ward’s book – that not only is the KJV too difficult to understand, the KJV translators could have used easier words and syntax. Even a child knows that much! In this chapter the reader begins to see the contradictions in Ward’s anecdotal evidence. This being the case, I encourage my reader to reflect on the value of such evidence as it pertains to Ward’s thesis.


The narrative that Ward presents is that while most people can understand the KJV, there are verses that require a second look, and that many readers will not understand certain verses the first time around, if they ever do understand them. This is the entry point to Ward’s primary argument. Upon first glance, this standard could also result in every translation being considered for retirement if applied equally. The reality is, there are verses in every translation that require explanation. The NIV, for example, contains words such as “aloes,” “odious,” “stadia,” “sistrums” and so on. There are difficult concepts and words in the Bible that do not appear in our common vernacular. If we step outside of Ward’s narrative for a moment, it is plainly evident that the Bible isn’t easily understood in every place. 

“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood”  

2 Peter 3:16

The quoted material above is one of the Biblical proofs Ward uses to support his argument. The reader will see later that Ward will call upon Scripture to make the claim that if something can’t be understood, it cannot be of value to the people of God. It is important to recognize that Ward has relied heavily upon anecdotes to develop his narrative up to this point, and now he is beginning to invoke Scripture to support these anecdotes. In effect, Ward is saying, “These people I knew once didn’t understand this verse.” He is beginning to make the case to his reader, that while most people read the KJV, many of them don’t even know they can’t understand it.


The problem that Ward presents to his reader is that people that read the KJV cannot understand it, and sometimes don’t even know they cannot understand it. As a KJV reader, this feels extremely condescending. It assumes that the average Bible reader doesn’t try to understand difficult passages, or is too dull to know when they cannot understand a passage. Ward offers his reader some perspective on himself, which may help understand his book in addition to how Ward can make these types of claims about other Christians who read the KJV:

“I was a somewhat intellectually arrogant kid.”

Ibid., 25

This is in effect to say, “The only reason I thought I could understand the KJV was because I was arrogant.” While this is a very strange thing to say, I believe Ward has missed the point entirely. The problem he is presenting as a reason for retiring the KJV is simply a description of learning something new. Every Christian has to learn new words, no matter which translation they read. There are times when you are a child where you will misunderstand words and get them wrong, and not just in the Bible. This happens as easily reading a Goosebumps novel while you are learning to read. Getting words wrong is a part of the learning process.

It seems the argument that Ward is making is that the average Christian must learn more words to read the KJV than they would with modern translations. Yet as Ward loves to say, this seems to be more of a problem of quantity, not kind. The problem of Christians misunderstanding the Bible is not unique to KJV readers. There are many times where Christians believe they understand a passage, but then a pastor or friend comes along and informs them that they do not. If we again step outside of Ward’s narrative, it should be common sense that Christians do not understand the Bible perfectly in a vacuum. 

I will pause my review for a moment to make a point. Every Christian needs to study and be taught. What I have a difficult time understanding is why one would argue that this should be done to a lesser degree. We have seen Ward admit that reading the KJV improves literacy among other things, so why advocate for its retirement on these grounds? It is true that KJV readers must learn more words than modern Bible readers, but that is not a convincing argument for the KJV being put behind glass in a museum. In fact, it seems like a huge positive that our children would be raised with a higher reading comprehension vocabulary. And if this principle were truly adhered to among the academic types, why do these scholars constantly advocate for learning multiple languages to read the Scriptures? The same scholars who claim the KJV is too difficult to read also recommend learning the original Biblical languages to “go back to the Greek and Hebrew.” In any case, Ward’s argument takes the anecdotal experience of the few and projects it to the many. As we have already seen, and will see more later in this review, the case that Ward is building contradicts itself to such a degree that he presents and refutes his own thesis within the cover of his own book.


It is clear that so far in Authorized, Ward relies heavily upon rhetoric, anecdotes, and narrative building to convince his reader that the KJV should not be read. In this chapter, his primary argument is that KJV readers may think they understand what they are reading, but actually do not. The reader is led to believe that Ward’s difficulty must be a problem for everybody. Again I will highlight that the people who are likely to be convinced by these arguments are people that do not actually read the KJV. He uses an anecdote of a summer camp where not a single person, pastors included, could understand Psalm 37:8 to support this point. Ward uses personal experience and anecdotes to establish his premise to build a narrative that the KJV simply cannot be understood. What Ward seems to miss is that the average Bible reader cares deeply about the words in the pages of their Bible. They study the Bible. They try to understand the Bible. It is not prideful to have a sound working knowledge of Scripture. I tested all of Ward’s example passages against some commentaries that are available online for free and all of them provided helpful and thorough explanations of the passages in question.

The most off-putting part of Ward’s book so far is the juvenile tone he takes. He inserts poorly placed and in my opinion, inappropriate jokes and commentary in the middle of a very serious topic. In a piece of persuasive writing, Ward discusses his failed attempts at impressing girls and his “smug satisfaction” of being intellectually superior than his peers in grade school, among other things. His premise for chapter 2 is also incredibly demeaning and insulting to the people who read the KJV. Ward discusses how smart he is, how much he has studied, and his self-proclaimed expertise in linguistics in order to make the concluding point: that God broke him of his pride and showed him that he didn’t actually understand the KJV. Ward seems to be making the point that if he, in all of his learning, cannot understand the KJV, neither can his reader. Thankfully he clarifies that,

“just because I was arrogant and ignorant doesn’t mean all other KJV readers are the same.”  

Ibid., 27

Putting the Conversation in Perspective


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.


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

Evaluating the Modern Claim of Better Data


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

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

The Alleged Kaleidoscopic Nature of the Text

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

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

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

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

The Impossibility of Original Egyptian Texts

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

In Pursuit of the Divine Original


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

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

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

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

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

An Examination of the Majority Conservative View of Preservation

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

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

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

An Explanation for the Ongoing Pursuit of the Divine Original

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

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

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

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

The Necessity for a Theological Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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