Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

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

Introduction

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. 

Anecdotes

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.

Narrative

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.

Problem

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.

Conclusion

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

1 John 5:7 and Modern Criticism

Introduction

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

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

An Age Old, Claim Reproduced in Modernity by Evangelicals

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

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


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

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

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

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

Examining This Variant Theologically and Faithfully

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

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

Bart Ehrman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Calvin notes that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of Rejecting Material Preservation

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infallibility, Inerrancy, and Greatly Accurate Texts

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Implications to Doctrine

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

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

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

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

(Ibid. 8)

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

(Ibid. 12)

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

(2 Timothy 3:15)


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

(2 Timothy 3:16)

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

(John 16:13,14)

“My sheep hear my voice”

(John 10:27)

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


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

(John 10:26)

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

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

(LBCF, WCF 1.5)

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

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

(Romans 8:5)

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

Examining the Test Case 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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


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

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

Six Reasons Why I Do Not Want a Revised KJV

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Going Back to the Start

Introduction

There are approximately 450 Bible translations in English, each one unique. The most popular of these include the NIV, KJV, NLT, ESV, NKJV, NASB, and CSB. All of these utilize different translation methodologies, and all of these are either revisions from earlier translations, or follow the translational choices of previous translations. Among conservatives, the KJV and ESV reign supreme, though the ESV has largely won the hearts of the modern Calvinist camp. Prior to the late 19th century, there was really only one Bible used by all English speaking churches, the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version (AV). We’ve come a long way in just over 100 years. It is easy to get bogged down in discussions over which version is the best, and that certainly does happen, often. It is often said that the English speaking world has an “embarrassment of riches” as it pertains to Bible versions, and I suppose that is true if we’re counting noses. Unfortunately, the quality of this multitude of versions should cause the sound minded Christian to see the hundreds of versions for what they are – simply an embarrassment. So how did we get here? How did we get from a church with one text to a church with more texts than there are genders recognized by the state of New York? 

A Short History of English Translations 

Prior to taking a trip through time, it is important to evaluate the state of affairs of Bible versions, and the fruit of such Bible versions. In the first place, it should be apparent to all that the number of Bible translations are not a blessing, but a blight to the English speaking church. Not only is it common, but inevitable, that you will encounter a multitude of translations wherever you go to fellowship. I could write several blog posts chronicling the various occasions on which an NASB devotee and an ESV reader went at it, ultimately resulting in the Bible study devolving into a shoddy attempt to do word studies using some online lexicon. Rather than going back to the Greek, let’s go back in history and see how this all started. 

In 1881, a revision of the Authorized Version was completed, and the product was called the Revised Version. The committee responsible for this effort were authorized with the simple task of removing the “plain and clear errors” in the AV. Some of the rules for such a revision included: 

  1. To introduce as few alterations as possible into the text of the AV
  2. To indicate such alteration in the margin
  3. Only necessary changes were to be made

Not only did the “revision” team not follow these rules, they broke them in excess. They didn’t just “revise” the AV, they created an entirely new underlying Greek text, an entirely new translation, and the notes which they left in the margin to detail such additions and subtractions were so inadequate that even the most learned reader could be misled by them. The vague statements such as “some ancient authorities” in the margins have been carried over in spirit into the beloved modern versions, most notably the ESV, NIV, and NASB. These kinds of footnotes are not only bewildering, they introduce doubt where doubt need not be introduced. That is not to say that the intentions of the revision team were malicious, but if they were graded on how well they could follow directions, they would have failed. This is relevant because almost all of the modern versions stand in this textual tradition. 

In the preface of the ESV, it reads that it “stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The fountainhead of that stream was William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526; marking its course were the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV).” 

If you’ve read both the ESV and KJV, you’re probably thinking what I thought when I read that: What loose definition of “classic mainstream” is being used? 

If by “classic mainstream” it is meant that it has 66 books in it, then it certainly does stand in the same stream. Yet, anybody who has read these two versions knows that this is a plain abuse of the term which only serves to obfuscate the reality to the reader. The reality is that the ESV, and almost every modern version stands in the stream of either the RSV or the ASV, and only the KJV can properly claim to stand in the tradition of Tyndale. One cannot say responsibly that a text is in the same tradition as another when they are different in hundreds of places, and those Bibles which stand in the RV stream omit over forty verses from the KJV stream. See, the English Bibles leading up to the KJV in 1611 all had the Longer Ending of Mark, the Pericope Adulterae, the Comma Johanneum, John 5:4, Acts 8:37, Romans 16:24, and so on. They all translated the same reading at John 1:18 and 1 Timothy 3:16. They all stood in the same textual tradition. So it is rather disingenuous when the revision team first introduced their text, advertising it as a “revision,” and again disingenuous when Crossway published their preface saying that the ESV was in the “Classic Mainstream” going back to Tyndale. This same strategy is still employed today by many top scholars who consistently prop up this idea that the two streams are essentially the same. 

It is important to note that not only is the text vastly different between the RV tradition and the KJV tradition, the textual methodologies are completely different as well. If the two streams are different, every Christian should be asking three questions: 

  1. Why is there such a concentrated effort to mitigate the differences between the two streams? 
  2. Why is it so important that the two streams stand in the same tradition? 
  3. If the “revision” effort resulted in an entirely new Greek text, should we adopt that text? 

Answering the Difficult Questions

The reason there is an effort to mitigate the differences between the two streams is due to the fact that if the streams are truly significantly different, the classic Protestant doctrine of inspiration and preservation is incorrect. If the Scriptures have been kept pure in all ages, there wouldn’t be, and cannot be, two textual traditions that are both valid. And if the modern textual tradition is valid, then the sum of classic Protestant doctrine was built on an incorrect text. That is why it is so important that the two texts stand in the same tradition. If we were talking about a handful of insignificant readings which were simply ignored for a hundred years or so, that is easily written off by the fallibility of the textual criticism done in the 16th century. That is not the case, however. The reality is, that we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of differences. So many differences, in fact, that the two text platforms are entirely different Bibles. That should cause every single Christian who cares about Inspiration and Preservation to give serious thought to the reality of two different textual platforms. If the ESV, for example, does not stand in the “classic mainstream” of Scripture, what should we think of it? 

Rather than viewing the discussion over translation as a matter of preference, we need to revisit the history of translations and see if that first “revision” was even warranted, and what exactly was done as a part of the effort. The reality is, if the revision team had followed instructions, it is likely that I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. We’d all be reading a faithful update to the Authorized Version. That of course, did not happen. Instead, we have hundreds of Bible versions, endless debates over which translation is best, the enemies of the faith constantly attacking our embarrassing situation, and utter chaos in our churches as a result of our multitude of Bible versions. Yet these are not the only products of that fateful “revision” effort. As a result of the modern textual methodology, pastors and layman alike are taught to read their Bibles critically and subjectively, picking and choosing verses to believe and not to believe. The common opinion is that “no translation can adequately bring forth the original,” resulting in people utilizing Greek lexicons to warp the text into what they want it to say. The plain fruit of this is that people simply do not trust their Bible translation. Even worse, the latest textual methodology that has evolved from the 19th century has brought the levels of skepticism to dire extremes. Not only is it the conservative position to approach the text skeptically and subjectively, it is perfectly normal to reject the preservation of Scripture altogether. In fact, it is naive, and even considered fundamentalism to affirm that God has preserved the matter of Scripture perfectly into the 21st century. 

The reality is that the “revision” done in 1881 has led to an embarrassment of problems for the modern church. It has given license for people to not only doubt their translation, but to doubt the text it was translated from. It has introduced division by forcing the church to take a stand on the traditional text against the modern text. It has created controversies, debates, strife, confusion, chaos, and has opened the door for not only the enemies of the faith to discredit the Scriptures, but given full license for Christians to do the same. Look around, Christian. There is not a Bible anymore, just bibles. Rather than squabbling for hours on Facebook over textual variants, perhaps it is a good idea to back up for a second and look around. Which text is the real problem? Which text really needs to be justified? Who is the burden of proof really on? It is abundantly clear which text has caused more problems. The question to ask, and an important one at that, is: Was it justified for the church to adopt a text that was conceived in scandal, and should we adopt the children of that text today?

In the following blog posts, I will be exploring these questions. Happy New Year!


Substantial Preservation and the Sin of Certainty

Introduction

In today’s world of Biblical scholarship, a common idea is that Christians should have a good amount of confidence that the sum total of the Bible has been preserved. This means that while Christians should not have any dogmatic ideas of perfect preservation of words, they should have confidence that God has given to His people enough. That is to say that despite the fact that there are challenging passages in the Scriptures, none of these challenges are so great that Christians should lose confidence in their Bible as a whole. This concept of general reliability is agreeable even to some unbelieving textual scholars, which is possibly why it has become a sort of default position within Evangelical textual scholarship. The idea of absolute certainty in every word of the Bible is not considered a viable theological position due to the perspectives of modern textual scholars. According to this view, there is simply no justifiable reason to believe that every word has been kept pure, and to hold to a view like this is unnecessarily dogmatic. This article is not meant to challenge the integrity of the scholars, some of which are genuine brothers in Christ, but rather to put forth a serious problem with the general reliability theory of the New Testament. While I understand the sentiment behind this mediating position between radical skepticism and absolute certainty in the Text of the New Testament, I believe that this perspective, which may be called Substantial Preservation, is not defensible, practical, or Scriptural. 

Substantial Preservation is Not Demonstrable by Evidence

John Brown of Haddington wrote on this very topic in his systematic theology in the 18th century when defending the Scriptures against such a view that certain truths had fallen away. He argued that all Scriptures, while some are less essential than others, are “essentially necessary in their own place.” That is to say, that while many passages discuss matters not pertaining directly to salvation, that does not make those passages any less important is it pertains to the whole of what God is saying to His people. The Scriptures affirm as much in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Despite some passages which may be considered more or less important by some, the Bible is clear, “all Scripture” is profitable and is to be used for every matter of faith and practice. Brown then comments on the fundamental challenge of dividing the Scriptures into essential and non-essential.

“All attempts to determine which are fundamental, and which not, are calculated to render us deficient and slothful in the study of religious knowledge; – To fix precisely what truths are fundamental and what not, is neither necessary, nor profitable, nor safe, nor possible” (Brown, Systematic Theology, 97). 

When the theological position is taken that says that the “sum total” or the “necessary” or the “important” parts of Scripture have been reliably transmitted, this is what is taking place. An attempt is being made to say that while some or many words have fallen away from the Scriptures, the whole sense of the thing is not lost by certain words falling away or indeterminate. Brown makes an extremely pointed observation here – how would one even come to a determination like that? There is absolutely no way to know if a doctrine is lost, unless of course that person is omniscient, or all knowing, and can determine that those words were not meant to be preserved by God. The weight of the substantial preservation argument rests on a faith claim that God never desired to preserve every word, and that Christians should have a reasonable amount of certainty that the words we can have confidence in are the ones God intended to preserve. 

Since the starting point of this claim is evidential, the conclusions and further claims made from this starting point must be evidential as well. That means that if one is to make the claim that the evidence demonstrates a substantially preserved Bible, one has to demonstrate that the words we do have represent substantially what was originally written. This of course is impossible to demonstrate from evidence. Dan Wallace admits as much, “We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it” (Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii). So in this view, we don’t know exactly what the “authors” of the New Testament wrote, and we have no way of demonstrating what they wrote, even if we did have it. This being the case, there does not seem to be a reason to responsibly make such a determination regarding the general reliability of the New Testament. The claim that the New Testament is generally reliable is not proven by lower criticism, it is simply believed despite the conclusions of textual scholars. Since our earliest extant New Testament manuscripts are dated to well after the authorial event, there is no way of determining, evidentially, how different those manuscripts are from the authorial text. This perspective may have been rejected, even fifty years ago by Evangelicals, but according to Wallace, believing textual scholars are  “far more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty than the previous generations” (Ibid., xii). While many scholars may be comfortable with this view, the millions of Christians around the world who believe in verbal plenary inspiration may not be. 

Substantial Preservation is Not Practical 

If the Bible is preserved in the “sum total” of its material, then Christians must add an additional layer to their Bible reading. Rather than simply reading the words on the page, Christians must first establish that those words are reliable. Since some words cannot be trusted outright, there is no reason to believe that all of the words can be trusted outright. That is due to the fact that the methodology which deems some verses reliable and others not is completely and utterly subjective. In some cases, the majority reading is the deciding principle, in other places, the least harmonious reading is the deciding principle, and in more places, what is considered the earliest reading is the deciding principle. In order to validate these deciding principles, Christians must become text-critics themselves. They must examine the evidence for each verse in the Bible and determine if it meets some threshold of certainty based on the current canons of text-criticism or develop their own. Most Christians are not equipped for this kind of work. 

Since the reality is that the vast majority of Christains are not equipped for this kind of work, this is done for the Christian by the editors of various translations and rogue Christians with some knowledge of the original languages. Christians are told which verses they are to have confidence in by a handful of people. The footnotes tell a Christian what to read, popular opinion tells a Christian what to read, or Christians decide for themselves what they ought to read. Yet, underneath every verse is a mountain of textual variations and a sign that says, “We do not have now, in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” That is to say, that every Christian is held captive by the judgements of textual scholars, translation committees, and the opinions of one or two people with a platform when they read their Bible. What a Christian considers Scripture today could easily be out of vogue tomorrow. This is plainly evident in the transformation of modern Bibles in the last fifty years.  

Even if there is no critical footnote in the margin of a translation, the Christian has to know that every single verse can be questioned with the same amount of uncertainty applied to the verses which do have footnotes. This is due to the fact that the axiom itself produces “radical skepticism.” That is to say, that if a Christian cannot know for sure that the words they are reading are authentic, they must adopt some sort of theological principle which gives them certainty. The common view seems to be, “We don’t know what the original said, yet we are going to read it as though we do anyway.” Yet this view is entirely contingent upon external methods, and produces different results for each Christian. It is perfectly reasonable, for two Christians adhering to this same view of the text to have radically different opinions on each line of Scripture. Since, according to the top scholars, we can’t know who is right, both Christians are equally justified in their decision. There is nothing wrong with one person accepting Luke 23:34 and another rejecting it in this view of the text. On what grounds would one even begin to make a dogmatic statement one way or the other using text-critical methods? In an attempt to combat “absolute certainty,” the people of God are held hostage by the opinions of men. The practical task of reading a Bible has been turned into a task that only the most qualified men and women can execute. The act of reading the Bible is unmistakably transformed into an activity of scrutinizing the text and then reading that text with only a reasonable amount of certainty. The Bible has yet again been taken from the hands of the plowboy. 

Substantial Preservation is Not Scriptural

The Bible is clear that Christians are to have absolute certainty in the Scriptures (Mat. 24:35; Ps. 19:7; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Heb. 1:1-2; Mat. 4:4; Mat. 5:18; Jn.10:27). Absolute certainty in God’s Word is not a bad thing, despite the strange opinions of men and women who say that it is something to be fought off and beat down out of the church. No pastor in his right mind would mount the pulpit and say that we do not know, and have no way of knowing what the original text of the New and Old Testament said. There is no gentle way to put it, this view is dangerous and the proponents of such a view would have been put outside of the camp for saying such a thing all throughout church history. Yet, in this day and age, the view of absolute certainty in the Holy Scriptures is called “dangerous” and is demonized. The visceral reality is, if Christians are not to have absolute certainty in their Bibles, they have no reason to believe it is God’s Word at all. If some of God’s Word is compromised, why should Christians believe that all of it isn’t compromised? That is to say, that if God had the ability to preserve some of the words, He had the ability to preserve them all. There is no reason to believe that God would conveniently preserve the words we, in the 21st century, think are preserved. In order to make a theological claim that God only preserved some words, you must adopt a contradictory view that God is both a) powerful to preserve the words of Scripture and b) not powerful enough to preserve them all. This position is adopted with the guise of humility. Since we “know” that there places where the Scriptures weren’t kept pure, then God must not have preserved all of them! It is actually anachronistic and prideful to think that God preserved every word! Yet, these places where God didn’t keep His Word pure conveniently have aligned with the theories and conclusions of textual scholars for over 200 years. It is rather peculiar that God would think so much like a text-critic.

If Christians are to take a mediating position between radical skepticism and absolute certainty, the process of reading a Bible becomes a burdensome act that few Christians are even capable of doing. 99% of Christians do not know the original languages, and even those who do are not up to date on all of the changes in textual scholarship. That means nearly every Christian is held captive by their preferred scholar or pastor on what their Bible really says. They either have to simply put their head in the sand and go with the flow of every changing edition of their Bible, or get lost in the radical skepticism that is espoused by textual scholars. Do not be mistaken, the idea that we cannot know what the prophets and apostles wrote is absolutely a form of radical skepticism. It may not be the case in intention or heart of these scholars, but in practice I see no way around it. If the Bible is only generally reliable, than each Christian has the responsibility of figuring out the places of general reliability. This view leads to opinions like the one I received on my YouTube channel, where a man said, “The textual apparatus is the lifeblood of the pastor.” This view is so disconnected from any sort of pastoral reality I wanted to scream. No sir, every word that proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God is the lifeblood of the pastor, not the places where God’s Word has been called into question. The act of reading the Bible is not to be an activity of constantly saying, “Yea, hath God said?”

Conclusion

The doctrine of Scripture which says that the words are generally reliable is one that is not defensible, practical, or Scriptural. It is one that is so far disconnected from the people of God that I hope it never succeeds in being forced upon people who actually read their Bible daily. Not only is there no way of determining which passages of Scripture are “important” enough, there is no way to even prove that a passage is reliable if we have no way of validating those passages. This view, as it is articulated now, leaves every single Christian hanging three feet in mid air in the clutches of people who are “qualified” to make judgements on the text of Holy Scripture. The bottom line of this view is that each Christian needs to either a) trust a scholar to tell them what God’s Word says, b) develop their own canons of validating God’s Word by learning Greek and Hebrew and the history of text-criticism, or c) put their head in the sand and ignore the sign post under each verse that says, “this may or may not be God’s Word.” It seems that in an attempt to appease the mockers of God’s Word, scholars have simply given up God’s Word altogether. Yes, this is an all or nothing sort of situation. You cannot say in one breath that the Word of God is reliable, and then in the next say we don’t know what God’s Word originally said. There is no middle ground here. Either we know or we don’t. I think if Evangelical scholars took Bart Ehrman more seriously they may recognize that his fundamental problem is the fundamental problem with modern textual scholarship. It is the problem that the historical protestants defended by standing on the self-authenticating principle of Scripture. 

The false dichotomy of “radical skepticism” and “absolute certainty” misses the point of this discussion entirely. All Christians are commanded to have absolute certainty in the Holy Scriptures. If one rejects absolute certainty, then there is no middle ground between that and radical skepticism. This perhaps would require some scholar producing a work which catalogues all of the verses that are generally reliable and those that are not. Even if that work were produced, it would have an asterisk next to every determination that would read, “I have no way of proving this.” The fruit of such an opinion is evident in the real world. Since the axioms and implementation of modern text-criticism has only produced a data set, and not a text, every single Christian with a bit of knowledge on the topic is encouraged to produce their own text.This is made clear in the fact that this is exactly what Christians are doing. 

The modern printed texts are simply a guide as to what one should read as Scripture. Protestantism was founded on the self-authenticating principle of Scripture, Sola Scriptura. This was the foundational doctrine which caused the Reformation to succeed. Christians did not need a magisterium for Scripture to be authenticated, the Scriptures themselves provided the authority. Yet, in the modern period, this has been abandoned. Every Protestant has their own Bible, their own authority, which may or may not be God’s Word. Christians leap into battle with this Bible and try to combat the Muslim or the Roman Catholic, and they do so thinking that they are winning. The fact is, when Christians adopt an uncertain view of the text, they rush into battle with a Nerf sword thinking they have a hardened Claymore, and the opponents of the faith know it. Why do you think these apologists are so eager to broadcast these debates worldwide? 

I can already see people trying to make this conversation about textual variants, because that is all they can do. Yet, I want people to remember, when an Evangelical shouts about variants from a modern critical text position, they are standing on grounds that cannot support any of their claims with any amount of certainty. Absolute certainty is bad, if you recall. Remember this quote the next time somebody tries to say they know what the author originally wrote at Ephesians 3:9 or 1 John 5:7: “We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” Any argument for absolute certainty on a text from a modern critical perspective is built on a foundation that does not claim to know what the original reading said absolutely. There is no consistent methodology that can produce a printed text that represents exactly what the prophets and the apostles wrote, and the honest scholars admit as much. So when somebody says, “I want what Paul wrote!” and then argues for a modern critical methodology, just remember that they have not adopted a methodology that can produce what Paul wrote. 

Even if it could, they would not know it. At the end of the day, they are cold and naked, trusting with blind faith that their autonomous reasoning and critical methodologies have given them at least a middle ground between skepticism and certainty. That is why the war which is waged against those with absolute certainty doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The real argument that is made when somebody asks, “Which TR?” or makes a demonstration from evidence against or for a reading is, “Why are you so certain that this reading is original?” The only thing that is inherently problematic, from a modern critical perspective, is absolute certainty, not the readings themselves. Anybody who says that the readings themselves are wrong is simply being inconsistent, because they have adopted a system that does not pretend to have produced original readings (or at least know they have produced original readings). It is impossible to have any legitimate problems with a particular printed text because these critics aren’t claiming to know what it says themselves! The only appropriate answer from a modern critical perspective to somebody who believes 1 John 5:7 is Scripture is simply, “I don’t have confidence that that is original, but I can’t prove it either way.”

I imagine that many will take issue with this article. They will say that I have misrepresented the perspectives and opinions of those who adopt a form of substantial preservation. To these critics I say, can you produce a list of verses that the people of God should be certain about? Would you be willing to take those verses to Bart Ehrman and DC Parker  and Eldon J. Epp and say that those readings are original? Can you detail the methodology you used to determine which doctrines are important and which are not? Can you prove to me that the verses you deemed unoriginal weren’t in the original text of the prophets and apostles? Did you use a methodology that is consistent and repeatable? The fact is, there is not a single responsible scholar alive who would be willing to produce answers for these questions. Instead, they will instruct Christians to believe that a) we don’t know absolutely what the prophets and apostles said and b) that Christians should believe that the words placed in the printed Greek texts and translations are the words of the prophets and apostles anyway, with a medium amount of certainty. Either that, or they will continue to shout about a particular variant they have researched and ignore the underlying reality that I have presented in this article. 

This is not the ticket, church. The only outcome of this view, ironically, is radical skepticism. Fortunately, God is not tossed to and fro by the opinions of 21st century scholars. He has indeed given His Scriptures to the church, and the church has received them in time. I don’t believe that God is “generally reliable,” I believe He is absolutely reliable. Which means I believe His Word is absolutely reliable, and should be absolutely trusted. If the only grounds we have for believing in Scripture is the conclusions of modern textual scholars, I don’t see any good reasons for any Christian to believe in the Scriptures at all. Yet, the Scriptures are clear. The grounds for believing in Scripture is the fact that God has spoken, and has spoken in His Word. If God has truly spoken in His Word, the Holy Scriptures, then Christians have every reason to believe that they can be absolutely certain about God’s Word.    

A Bit of Friendly Dialogue with Triablogue

Introduction

Today I was pointed to an article posted by the brother(s) who run the Triablogue site. I thought that the points represented a lot of the mainstream ideas regarding the Confessional Text position, and that responding would be helpful for all. I am grateful for this chance to interact, and I hope my response is productive. I will be going through each of the 16 points offered by author here.

16 Points

1. At one level, the significance of this issue is easily overblown. The text of the NT has enormous multiple-attestation. Even if you opt for the Byzantine text, there’s not much that can go wrong. 

Starting off my interaction, I want to offer an alternative opinion than this perspective. There is in fact, a lot that can go wrong when it comes to textual criticism of the New Testament. The post includes the “Bart Ehrman” tag at the bottom, so I imagine he falls into the category of “a lot going wrong”. Regardless of what the author thinks, this issue is very important to Christians everywhere who read their Bible, and confusion on just one variant can send believers into spiritual tumult. I have fielded many phone calls with people dealing with this issue on a personal level, so I’m not sure it’s fair to say that this issue is “easily overblown”. Most Christians do not have the time or money to invest in understanding this issue, and as a result, it can be extremely important. I am hesitant to set the bar too low when dealing with people’s confidence in their Bible.

2. At another level, it is a big issue. What’s at stake is convincing Christians to believe their faith hinges on a particular text tradition like the Byzantine or the TR. That’s the “canonical” text. This leaves them poised for a gratuitous crisis of faith if they develop doubts about the TR. In this case, their faith in the Bible becomes inseparable from faith in the TR and the KJV. That’s apostasy waiting to happen. DeSoto is going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman. The same all-or-nothing mentality. The same false dichotomies. 

In this second point, it seems that the author does recognize the importance of the issue, but the issue is “convincing Christians to believe their faith hangs on a particular text tradition”. I have never made this claim, nor will I ever say that people who read other Bibles cannot be saved, or that their faith “hinges” on which Bible they read. The Shepherd is not in the business of losing sheep. I will say, however, that many people do, in the real world, encounter a faith crises when they discover certain realities about the modern critical text. That is not to say that this is the experience with all Christians, but it does happen, and it happens perhaps more often than the author might think. While the author has stated that I am “going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman”, I can’t help but think this is simply a rehashing of James White’s claim on the matter without any evidence to actually support it. I imagine the author agrees a lot more with Bart Ehrman than he realizes. I have interacted with Bart Ehrman’s material, and have found that the Confessional Text position, from an epistemological and material standpoint, actually does offer a response to to his claims. Again, I am not making a false, “all or nothing” claim. I know many dear brothers and sisters in Christ who do just fine with the ESV and NASB. In my experience, many people are simply unaware of the process that goes into making their Bible. Christians all operate on their Bible being the inspired Word of God, and when they investigate the various text-critical theories, it often causes them to doubt that their Bible is what they think it is. This is not about being “right” or creating false dichotomies.

3. Because we have so many copies of the Greek NT, copies with many, mostly trivial variants, it’s important although not strictly necessary to produce a critical edition of the NT. That’s not unique to proponents of the eclectic text. Astute proponents of the Byzantine text also appreciate the need to produce a critical edition of the NT, using internal and external textual criteria. For instance: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v06/Robinson2001.html

I have no commentary on this point, but am including it for the sake of including the whole article in my response.

4. I myself subscribe to mainstream textual criticism and the eclectic text approach. I don’t have a firm opinion about CBGM. Certainly we should take advantage of computers to digitize our MSS, then compare them. Stanley Porter is a critic of CBGM.  I’d add that it isn’t necessary to choose between CBGM and traditional textual criticism. You can compare the results of both, and the reasoning behind their choices. Metzger’s textual commentary explains how traditional text critics made their choices. And there will be a textual commentary for the CBGM edition when that project is completed. 

I’m not sure what is the “mainstream textual criticism” that the author refers to here. The mainstream approach to creating Greek texts is the CBGM, as that is the method that is being used to produce the mainstream printed editions of the modern critical text as it is represented in the NA/UBS platform. The Tyndale House Greek New Testament, and various Majority Text editions are the exception, of course, but there aren’t really translations of those texts. It is important to note here that the CBGM and reasoned eclecticism are not odds with each other. The CBGM is the method being used to create the Editio Critica Maior (Not the “CBGM Edition”), and the ECM is being used to make printed Greek texts such as the NA/UBS. If by “mainstream textual criticism” the author means the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, it is again important to note that the axioms developed during the Hort-Metzger era of textual scholarship have been abandoned almost universally. Everything from the way scribal habits are viewed to the notion of “text-types” has moved in a different direction. Even though this is a popular level article, it may be important for the author to brush up on some of the current literature before providing a response.

5. Opting for the Byzantine tradition would be more defensible than opting for the T.R. That’s not my own position,  but there’s a respectable argument for that alternative. 

I agree, from a critical, evidence-based approach, the majority text or byzantine platform is far more defensible than the modern critical text, as it represents the text that was most copied, and has a wide harmony of agreement in its witnesses. If you’re looking for a well developed, though not widely adopted critical position on the text, James Snapp has done extensive work with his Equitable Eclecticism.

6. From what I can tell, all the Reformed proponents of the TR and the KJV are dabblers and dilettantes. They have no formal expertise in textual criticism. In fairness, they might say the same thing about me. But that proves my point. I admit that I’m an amateur when it comes to OT/NT criticism. And I don’t object to amateurs having opinions about range of specialized issues. I don’t think we should abode unconditional confidence in the judgment of experts.  But it’s because I’m an amateur that I don’t need to get my information from another amateur. If I want an amateur opinion about textual criticism, I can just consult my own opinion! By the same token, I don’t get my information about biology and physics from amateurs. Rather, I study what the professionals have to say. I might still dissent on philosophical or theological grounds. Or I might dissent if I think their discipline has become politicized, which skews their assessment.   This also goes beyond formal training. Some scholars like Bruce Metzger, Peter Williams, and Emanuel Tov have an exceptional skill set and natural aptitude that many scholars lack. Reformed proponents of the TR might also say that since mainstream NT criticism is so compromised, it’s a good thing that they lack formal training in that discipline. But that begs the question. 

I admit, I am no textual scholar. I have only done a bit of reading and writing on the matter. There are textual scholars that one might look to for a more scholarly handling of this position, including Dr. Jeff Riddle, Edward F. Hills, Theodore Letis, and Dean Burgon. It is interesting that the author simultaneously discredits the popular level proponents of the Confessional Text position, such as myself, while also admittedly being less than well-read on the topic and writing a popular level article. Again, Dr. Gurry’s book is very helpful and accessible and may offer some helpful new vocabulary and concepts to the reader. In terms of where I am getting my information from, I frequently cite my sources on my blog. These sources include H.C. Hoskier, Bart Ehrman, D.C. Parker, Eldon J. Epp, Jim Royse, Jan Krans, Peter Gurry, Tommy Wasserman, Jennifer Knust, Edward F. Hills, Dirk Jongkind, and so on. I even have, sitting on my desk next to me, Dr. Gurry and Dr. Hixson’s latest book on Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. That may be a helpful place to start for the author of this article.

7. A basic problem with canonizing the KJV is that most Christians aren’t English-speakers, most Christians were never English-speakers, and within the foreseeable future, most Christians won’t be English-speakers. So it’s absurdly ethnocentric. 

This point seems rather disconnected from the actual discussion. I personally have not advocated for the “canonization of the KJV”, and I’m not sure of any in my camp who do. There are a wealth of translations made from the Traditional Greek and Hebrew texts that have been used for hundreds of years, and hundreds more being made by the Trinitarian Bible Society into every vulgar tongue. There are also other English translations from the Traditional Text that are not the KJV that many in the Confessional Text camp read. Preference for the KJV is usually based on a preference for the actual translation methodology and the fact that it is most widely used. Again, this point seems to indicate that the author is not familiar with the position other than perhaps Dr. Peter Ruckman’s strange opinion that the King James Translation was somehow re inspired. Even the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, who often proudly tote the title “KJVO” do not believe in the same vain as Ruckman or Gipp.

8. Another problem is that we have a better understanding of Greek and Hebrew than the KJV translators. We have a wider sampling of ancient Hebrew than they had. And we have a wider sampling of ancient Greek than they had. For instance, Greek papyri give us access to non-literary Greek. That gives us access to Greek slang or Greek words with slang meanings. In addition, computers enable us to make exhaustive comparisons in vocabulary and grammatical constructions. 

I recommend the author to look up just one of the KJV translators, Lancelot Andrews, and see if he still believes this claim. Andrews was one among many who knew the languages so fluently he could fluently converse in them. I wonder if the author, or perhaps most seminary professors, could have a conversation casually in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, etc without skipping a beat. The King James translators certainly could. But again, I’m still struggling to see how translation of texts has anything to do with the text itself. If somebody wanted to come along and try to make a better version from the Traditional Text, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Interestingly enough, the King James Translators didn’t need a computer to know the languages. I’m sure the author would agree with me when I say that if somebody needed a computer to construct a sentence in English, they probably don’t know English all that well. I wonder how well Google translate would do making a Bible?

9. It’s true that earlier MSS aren’t necessarily better than later MSS. Obviously an 8C MS isn’t automatically better than a 9C MS. But when we’re talking about the NT papyri, I do think there’s a presumption that earlier is better because they are so chronologically close to the Urtext.  

I’m glad the author recognizes that newer manuscripts can preserve older readings. This much is fact. In terms of the Papyri, I’m not sure what that has to do with the conversation. There are less than 150 published Papyri (most of them scraps), and there aren’t enough of them to make a whole New Testament. Not to mention that there are Byzantine readings in the Papyri. Eldon J Epp calls the 20th century the “period of the papyri” and an “interlude” in the scheme of Textual Scholarship, because what came before and after is more significant. Perhaps the author could provide some examples of how the Papyri have changed the grand scheme of textual criticism.

10. Reformed TR proponents operate with an arbitrary notion of divine providence regarding the preservation of the text. They act like special providence singles out the TR rather than the Byzantine text or the NT papyri or the DDS or Codex Vaticanus. But why would providence only extend to the preservation of the text in the TR?  Likewise, the reason OT textual critics sometimes prefer the LXX to the MT is because the LXX translators had an earlier text than the Massoretes. So they had a text that might well preserve the original reading in some cases where the MT lost it.  

I’m not sure I would say it’s “arbitrary”. The Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Texts are the texts that were used almost exclusively among the protestants for translation, commentary, and theological works from the Reformation into the modern period. Chances are, if you have any works of the Puritans and the Post-Reformation Divines, they are using this text. If you adhere to a confession, they used the “arbitrary” text. Most theological works and commentaries into the 20th century use the AV and underlying texts. Some might argue that this is simply because they did not have the modern critical text, but isn’t that the point? God works in time, and in time, the church had the Traditional Text. Further, the argument against the Masoretic Text is curious, because there aren’t really any other Hebrew Texts to point to. The Reformed Confessions set the standard at the Greek and Hebrew texts being immediately inspired. If we don’t have those texts, what do we have? If the argument is that the LXX preserves original readings, is that not the argument you have problems with as it pertains to King James Onlyists? If a translation can preserve authentic readings, what exactly is the problem you have with your view of KJVO? Translations can give valuable insight in supporting readings with slim manuscript support, but supplying a reading from a translation is exactly the kind of argument Ruckman and Gipp make when they suppose the KJV should correct the Greek and Hebrew. There is an important nuance between supplying a reading from a translation that does not agree with the original texts and supporting a slimly attested reading in the original languages by way of versional evidence.

11. I’m no expert (something I share in common with Reformed TR proponents), but it seems to be that appeal to the Majority text is a statistical fallacy. If more MSS were produced by a particular locality, and more of those survive, that just means our extant MSS oversample a local textual tradition. Their numerical preponderance in itself creates no presumption that it’s more representative. Rather, that may simply be a geographical and historical accident. So the larger sample is an arbitrary sample. The fact that we have a larger sample of that textual tradition is random in the sense that it’s a coincidence of geography and the ravages of time. The Majority text may well be unrepresentative because a local textual tradition is overrepresented. 

I agree that I am no expert, with that I take no issue. I would challenge the author of this article to turn that argument on the formerly titled “Alexandrian Text Family”, which has very slim manuscript support. The author appeals to “other textual traditions”, but there aren’t really any others. There is no Alexandrian Text Family, or Western, or Cesarean. The pregeneaological coherence component of the CBGM demonstrates this overwhelmingly. In the same way, and more likely, the smallest smattering of manuscripts, which are geologically local to one area, are in fact the anomaly. This is especially easy to understand when those manuscripts weren’t copied, and the ancestor(s) of those manuscripts is lost. The text that the author is advocating for is a blip on the outskirts of the map of the manuscript data. The author is right when it comes to the manuscript data, however, it is almost impossible to prove the significance of any one manuscript because we simply do not know enough about them other than how the people of God used and copied them.

12. It’s often said that despite all the textual variants, the true reading is contained somewhere in our “5000” extant Greek MSS. But that bare statement can be misleading. This isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes. 

i) Words are parts of sentences. If a scribe uses the wrong word, that usually makes the sentence nonsense. And it’s easy to spot which word is messing up the sentence. Moreover, it’s usually easy to figure out what the right word was, even if you only have that MS to go by.
We do this all the time. Email and text messages frequently contained recognizable typos, but we can usually figure out the intended word. 
ii) But suppose we can’t figure out what the original word was. So we consult other MS. The right word isn’t indetectable. If another MSS has the same sentence, but with a different word, and the sentence makes sense, then that’s probably the authentic reading. 
ii) Suppose I have two independent editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both editions contain typos. But they contain different typos. Suppose one edition contains a sentence with a typo, and I can’t figure out the original word. So I consult the other edition, where the parallel sentence makes sense. So that probably preserves the original word. 

I find no issue with this point. The first problem is, in the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, axioms such as “prefer the less harmonious reading” and “prefer the shorter reading” sort of gunk up point i) in the above list. Regardless, in the current edition of the NA28, there are readings which are “split”. Which means the editors of the text cannot determine which came first in the manuscript tradition. So when the author makes the claim, ” It’s not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes,” that is totally possible. Dr. Gurry comments on this in his book when he says that a later reading can be mistakenly supplied into the text over an earlier reading – undetected. Since the texts deemed earliest are basically alone in the manuscript tradition, unless you compare the readings to the thousands the author seems to reject, they are indeed alone. The author’s scenario of Tom Sawyer is not exactly relevant, because we know what the source material of Tom Sawyer said. There is a master copy to compare to. This idea of correcting the text by comparison of a few manuscripts, is however, the view of the Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines when it came to the text they had in hand, the Traditional Text. They believed that this sort of decision making could be done. That is what I believe can be done, and has been done. The editors of the modern critical text do not share in that opinion necessarily, as evidenced by the minefield of diamonds in the apparatus of the NA28. The fact is, that the current work being done is far more complex than the example given in the original article.

13. Opponents of the eclectic text allege that editors are “creating” the text. But that’s deceptive. It doesn’t mean they are inventing sentences. It just means they use more than one witness to the text. Since we know for a fact that scribes introduces changes into the text (usually inadvertently), we can’t rely on a single MS as it stands. It’s necessary to make corrections. And we do that by reference to other MSS. 

To this point I’ll simply respond with somebody has actually created Greek texts, and is listed as the team lead for the ECM in the Gospel of John, D.C. Parker.

“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.”

I agree that we cannot rely on one manuscript, I don’t think anybody would disagree. Nobody believes that the Bible came down through one single copy of the original. The Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines did not believe that, and neither do I. A more important conversation to have is whether or not the manuscripts we have now represent the historically transmitted text in time. God never promised to preserve His Word in hand written copies of the original texts. It seems we can draw from good and necessary consequence that those preserved texts must be in the original languages, but not necessarily in handwritten form. The fact is, original readings in the original languages can be, and have been, preserved with printed ink, not just handwritten ink. The author does not seem to have a problem with a reading being preserved in a translation (LXX), so I’m not sure what point is being made here.

14. In general, biblical teaching is redundant. It doesn’t hinge on one particular passage. Major doctrines are multiply-attested. The life of Christ is multiple-attested (four Gospels). 

I don’t disagree that many Biblical doctrines are not dependent on one proof text. I do not agree that all doctrines can be demonstrated equally with multiple proofs. I would be curious to see how the author handles the hapax legomena that our doctrine of inspiration comes from – θεοπνευστας. There are quite a few places where doctrine isn’t established on multiple verses totally. The Reformed were constantly building doctrine on one passage of Scripture. This is evidenced in the scripture proof texts of the Westminster Confession. Further, we do not demand this kind of thinking from preachers when they work expositionally through the text. We trust that each word is valuable for preaching and doctrine from the pulpit, despite the fact that those verses can be built out by passages in other places. It is not that we do not let Scripture interpret Scripture, but that we let Scripture interpret Scripture while also trusting and believing in every word that “proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

15. The way Reformed TR advocates cling to the Long Ending of Mark is hypocritical. If they truly believe that’s the original ending, then they ought to belong to charismatic, snake-handling churches. 

I wonder if Calvin, Matthew Henry, Gill, etc. would agree? They all seemed to get by just fine with the historical interpretation of it. Perhaps the author could investigate a commentary to see how the church has interpreted this passage before it was hucked out of the Bible on the bases of just two manuscripts.

16. What does God require of us? To be faithful to the best text we have at our disposal. Surely he doesn’t require us to be faithful to an unattainable word-perfect text. Even in the 1C, Christians copied originals. The originals were inerrant but the copies were not. 

This is a modern view by way of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Turretin and Van Mastricht certainly don’t agree with this statement. If the Bible isn’t perfect, what exactly is it does the author think he’s reading when he opens a Bible? Is it not the inspired Word of God? Or is it just partially inspired, where it can be proven to be so by text-critical practice? How do we determine which passages are apart of the attainable Word of God, and which parts are the unattainable? I’d be curious to see if the author would be willing to provide a methodology for determining this. John Brown of Haddington thought that kind of distinction was unwise, and I think we should too.

Conclusion

I hope my interaction with the article is not perceived as hostile. Hopefully my response causes those who read it to go and pick up some of the literature being published on the modern critical methods. We can always learn more, including myself. If the author wants to provide another response, I may be able to interact if I have the time. In the meantime, I hope the reader picks up a Bible and reads it, regardless of where they stand on the textual issue.

A Summary of the Confessional Text Position

Introduction

In this article, I will provide a shotgun blast summary of the Confessional Text Position, as well as some further commentary which will help those trying to understand the position better. In this short article, I do not expect that I have articulated every nuance of the position perfectly, but I hope that I have communicated it clearly enough for people to understand it as a whole. My goal is the reader can at least see why I adhere to the Traditional Hebrew and Greek text and translations thereof.

In 15 Points

1. God has voluntarily condescended to man by way of speaking to man (Deus Dixit) and making covenants with him (Gen. 2:17; 3:15)

2. In the time of the people of God of old, He spoke by way of the prophets (Heb. 1:1)

3. In these last days, He has spoken to His people by His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1)

4. The way that God has spoken by Jesus Christ is in Scripture through the inspiration of Biblical writers by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible is the Word of God, and in these last days, is the way that Christians hear the voice of their Shepherd by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27). The Bible does not contain the Word of God, or become the Word of God, it is the Word of God.

5. The purpose of this speaking is to make man “wise unto salvation” and “furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15;17; Rom. 1:16; 10:17)

6. Jesus promised that His Word would never fall away, as it is the means of accomplishing His covenant purpose (Mat. 5:18; 24:35)

7. Since God has promised that His words would not fall away, the words of Scripture have been kept pure in all ages, or in every generation (WCF 1.8; Mat. 5:18; 24:35) until the last day

8. Up until the 15th century with the invention of the printing press in Europe, books were hand copied. This hand copying resulted in thousands of manuscripts being circulated and used in churches for all matters of faith and practice. These manuscripts are generally uniform, except for a handful of manuscripts formerly known as the “Alexandrian Text Family”, which were not really copied or circulated. When Constantinople fell in 1453, just 14 years after the invention of the printing press in Europe, Greek Christians fled to Italy, bringing with them their Bibles and language.

9. The printing press was put to use in the creation of printed Bibles, in many different languages, specifically Greek and Latin

10. If it is true that the Bible has been kept pure, it was kept pure up to the 16th century. Thus, the manuscripts that were used in the first effort of creating printed text was the same text used by the people of God up to that point. Text-critics such as Theodore Beza would appeal to the “consent of the church” as a part of his textual methodology, which demonstrates that the reception of readings by the church were an integral part of the compilation of this text

11. The text produced over the course of a century during the Reformation period was universally accepted by the protestants, even to the point of other texts being rejected. It is historically documented that this is the “text received by all” (Received Text), which is abundantly made clear in the commentaries, confessions (see proof texts), translations, and theological works up until the 19th century.

12. This Greek text, along with the Masoretic Hebrew text, remained the main text for translation, commentary, theological works, etc. until the 19th century when Hort’s Greek text, based on Codex Vaticanus was adopted by many. At the time, many believed that Hort’s text was the true original, which caused many people to adopt readings from this text over and above the Received Text. This text was rejected by Erasmus and the Reformers, and has no surviving contemporary ancestor copies, meaning it was simply not copied or used by the church at large.

13. This Greek text was adopted based on Hort’s theory that Vaticanus was “earliest and best” and the text of modern Bibles all generally reflect this text form, even today. Due to the Papyri and the CBGM, Hort’s theory has been rejected by all in the scholarly community. Not to mention Hoskier’s devastating analysis of Codex B (Vaticanus).

14. Thus, the Confessional Text position adopts the Greek and Hebrew text, and translations thereof, that were “received by all” in the age of printed Bibles, and used universally by the orthodox for 300 years practically uncontested, except by Roman Catholics and other heretical groups (Anabaptists, Socinians, etc.).

15. The most popular of these translations, the Authorized Version (KJV), is still used by at least 55% of people who read their Bible daily as of 2014, and at least 6,200 churches. Additionally, Bibles made from these Greek and Hebrew texts into other languages remain widely popular across the world. Other English Bibles are based on this text, such as the MEV, NKJV, GNV, and KJ3, but they are relatively unused compared to the AV.

Further Commentary

The adoption of the Greek Received Text and the Hebrew Masoretic text is one based on what God has done providentially in time. Many assert that the history of the New Testament can only be traced by extant manuscript copies, but those copies do not tell the whole story. The readings in the Bible are vindicated, not on the smattering of early surviving manuscripts, but rather by the people that have used those readings in history (John 10:27), which are preserved in the texts actually used by those people. Since we will never have all of the manuscripts due to war, fire, etc., it is impossible to verify genuine readings by the data available today, as there is no “Master Copy” to compare them against. That is why the current effort of text-criticism is pursuing a hypothetical Initial Text, which relies on constructing a text based on the first 1,000 years of manuscript transmission.

The product of this is called the Editio Critica Maior (ECM), and it will not be finished until 2030. The methodology used (CBGM) to construct this text has already introduced uncertainty to the editors of those making Greek texts as to whether or not they can even find the Initial Text, or if they will even find one Initial Text. That is to say, that from the time of Hort’s text in the 19th century, the modern effort of textual criticism has yet to produce a single stable text. The printed editions of the modern critical text contain a great wealth of textual data, but none of these are a stable text that will not change in the next ten years. That is to say, that translations built on these printed editions are merely a representation of what the editors think the best readings are, not necessarily what the best readings are in reality.

Rather than placing hope in the ability of scholars to prove this Initial Text to be original, Christians in the Confessional Text camp look back to the time when hand copied manuscripts were still being used in churches and circulated in the world. The first effort of “textual criticism” if you will, is unique because it is the only effort of textual criticism that took place when hand copied codices were still being used as a part of the church’s practice. That means that the quality and value of such codices could be validated by the “consent of the church”, because the church would have only adopted a text that was familiar to the one they had been using up to that point. This kind of perspective is not achievable to a modern audience. During the time of the first printed editions, the corruption of the Latin Vulgate was exposed, and the printed editions created during that time were in themselves a protest against the Vulgate and the Roman Catholic church, who had in their possession a corrupted translation of the Scriptures. It was during this time, and because of these printed texts, that Protestantism was born.

Any denomination claiming to be protestant has direct ties back to this text, and the theology built upon it. The case for the Confessional Text is really quite simple, when you think about it. God preserved His Word in every generation in hand copied manuscripts until the form of Bibles transitioned to printed texts. Then He preserved His Word in printed Greek texts based on the circulating and approved manuscripts. This method of transmission was much more efficient, cheap, and easily distributed than the former method of hand copying. This text was received, commented on, preached from, and translated for centuries, and is still used by the majority of Bible reading Christians today. The argument for this text is not one based in tradition, it is one based on simply looking back into history and seeing which text the people of God have used in time. Not simply the story that the choice manuscripts of the modern scholars tells.

Any theories on other text forms are typically based on a handful of ancient manuscripts that were not copied or used widely, and the idea that this smattering of early manuscripts represents the original text form is simply speculation. What history tells us is that the text vindicated in time is the text the people of God used, copied, printed, and translated. This does not mean that every Christian at all times has used this text, just the overwhelming testimony of the people of God as a whole. The fact is, that we know very little about the transmission and form of the text in the ancient church in comparison to what we know about the text after the ancient period. The critical text, while generally looking like the Received Text, is different than the historical text of the protestants, which is why those in the Confessional Text camp do not use them. The few Papyri we have even demonstrate that later manuscripts known as the Byzantine text family were circulating in the ancient church.

Conclusion

So why is there a discussion regarding which text is better? Up until this point in history, the alternative text, the critical text, has been thought to be much more stable and certain than it is now. Currently, the modern critical text is unfinished, and will remain that way until at least 2030 when the ECM is finished. Those in the Confessional Text position might ask two very important questions regarding this text: Does a text that represents the text form of a handful of the thousands of manuscripts, a text which is incomplete, sound like a text that is vindicated in time? Does a changing, uncertain, unfinished text speak to a text that has been preserved, or one that has yet to be found? I suppose these questions aren’t answerable until 2030 when it is complete. This alone is a powerful consideration for those investigating the issue earnestly. Most people in the Confessional Text camp do not anathematize those who read Bibles from the critical text, or break fellowship over it, but we do encourage and advocate for the use of Traditional Text Bibles, as it the historical text of the Protestant church.

For More Information on Why I Prefer the Received Text, Click Here

For Interactions with Arguments Against the Received Text, Click Here