Review: The King James Version Discussion – Chapter 7


Chapter 7, entitled “Fourteen Theses,” makes up over 25% of the page count in this work, so I will try my best to handle each thesis in as little words as possible. As I commented in a previous article, this chapter would have likely been sufficient as the sum of the whole book to accomplish Carson’s objective. He begins the chapter by stating that he is not going to argue that defenders of the TR are “knaves or fools,” yet all throughout chapter 7 he uses language that is essentially synonymous. He harshly critiques defenders of the Byzantine tradition such as Zane Hodges and Edward F. Hills, and John Burgon, despite all three being a far more careful, studied, and respected scholars than himself, especially on this topic. Keep in mind that Carson is not a text-critic so his hostile analysis of these scholars is rather peculiar, considering he accuses people of blindly following and repeating their claims – which is the exact thing he seems to be doing throughout this work, only with Metzger. In order to keep this article at a manageable length, I will respond with very simple counter-arguments.

Thesis 1: There is no unambiguous evidence that the Byzantine text-type was known before the middle of the fourth century

I’ll just quote Carson in response:

I do not deny that readings found in the Byzantine text-type are found in the ante-Nicene period;

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He of course follows this statement with a “but,” but that is irrelevant if the claim is that “The Byzantine text-type didn’t exist.” You can’t say, “The Byzantine text didn’t exist, except where it did exist, I just don’t count that.” He further buries himself when he says,

It has not been proved conclusively that the Byzantine text-type did not exist before the fourth century.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In his first thesis, Carson has seemingly undone the whole foundation of his argument.

Thesis 2: The argument that defends the Byzantine tradition by appealing to the fact that most extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament attest to this Byzantine text-type, is logically fallacious and historically naïve

Here Carson demonstrates that he does not understand what the term “logically fallacious” means. The fallaciousness of a statement is determined by the coherence of an argument from premise to conclusion, not by whether or not you have a counter premise. Something can be logically coherent and still false. He could have just offered his counter argument rather than insulting Zane Hodges’ ability to think, but I suspect that Carson knows his argument is not that strong without poisoning the well first. Carson’s actual argument is as follows,

“It is quite possible to conceive that the best manuscripts of the New Testament were removed to some relatively quiet corner of the Mediterranean world while inferior manuscripts dominated in publishing centers.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 48). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So Carson’s response to what he calls “logically fallacious” and “historically naïve” is that God stashed the Bible away for over a thousand years in the Mediterranean rather than preserving it in the transmitted copies of the New Testament. In the rest of the chapter, Carson goes on to argue that “it is not asking to much” to reject that historical tradition of the church based on “the type of text found in B and Aleph” (50), engaging in what appears to be special pleading on behalf of two manuscripts over the majority tradition.

Thesis 3: The Byzantine text-type is demonstrably a secondary text

Carson bases the premise of his next thesis upon conjecture of what scribes may have done. Here is one example:

“One might argue that particularly heterodox scribes might well make a text more complicated.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 52). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He then makes the argument that the Byzantine text is “given to harmonization” (52). I’ve always found this argument rather strange, as it requires the belief that the original New Testament was lacking harmony and “abrupt.” Ultimately, the Scriptures being “given to harmonization” is not an argument against originality unless you are supposing the original text was not harmonious.

Thesis 4: The Alexandrian text-type has better credentials than any other text-type now available

Carson here uses a double standard to support his fourth thesis. In thesis 1, he argues that ante-nicene father quotations and versional evidence are not enough to defend the existence of the text type, yet here he uses it as a primary example of a credential for the Alexandrian text.

“Not only is the Alexandrian text-type found in some biblical quotations by ante-Nicene fathers, but the text-type is also attested by some of the early version witnesses.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 53). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“I do not deny that readings found in the Byzantine text-type are found in the ante-Nicene period; but almost all of these readings are also found in other text-types (mostly Western).”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One would think that Carson’s own analysis would support an earlier Byzantine text, seeing as it is shared among multiple traditions, as if other traditions adapted the Byzantine text, but he arrives at the opposite conclusion. According to Carson, since there isn’t a complete record of the Byzantine text, the individual witnesses must be discarded. The important point to note here is not my own theory, it is the fact that Carson uses the same standard to reject the Byzantine text as he does to support the “better credentials” of the Alexandrian text. As a side note, I would expect the use of the word “credentials” to mean that we know who created Aleph and B and who used them, which we do not know.

Thesis 5: The argument to the effect that what the majority of believers in the history of the church have believed is true, is ambiguous at best and theologically dangerous at worst; and as applied to textual criticism, the argument proves nothing very helpful anyway

Here Carson argues that because Christians are fallible, the texts they produced also can be fallible, and therefore the argument is moot. I would argue that Carson has misunderstood the argument, either intentionally or unintentionally. However, if we apply the same argument to his position, could the Byzantine defender not argue that the text of Aleph and B were also subject to the same error as those who produced the Byzantine text? Carson has not yet made any case for the quality of the two flagship manuscripts, other than they meet his arbitrary criteria of being as early as 350AD.

Thesis 6: The argument that defends the Byzantine text by appealing to the providence of God is logically and theologically fallacious

Carson argues that if God has providentially preserved the Byzantine text, he has also preserved the others.

“God, it is argued, has providentially preserved the Byzantine tradition. That is true; but He has also providentially preserved the Western, Caesarean, and Alexandrian traditions.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 56). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly enough, the Byzantine text is the only former text-type that is considered to be a text group still. He ends this argument by misunderstanding the difference between corruptions and variations, and closes with this statement:

The interpretation of individual passages may well be called in question; but never is a doctrine affected.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 56). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Here Carson unintentionally refutes the whole point of his book. If the manuscript tradition is all providentially preserved, that includes the Byzantine. And if doctrine is never effected, there is no doctrinal difference between the providentially preserved traditions. Therefore, Carson has no purpose for writing this book, and has refuted himself.

Thesis 7: The argument that appeals to fourth century writing practices to deny the possibility that the Byzantine text is a conflation, is fallacious

Carson’s argument in this thesis is so incredibly misleading that I would go as far to say that he has slandered Edward F. Hills, broken the 9th commandment, and shown himself to be a juvenile scholar not worthy to mention Hills’ name.

“Hills, in his book The King James Version Defended! argues that the Byzantine text could not be a fourth-century compilation from other texts because editors of that period did not have desks to write on.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 57). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The only word I have to describe this interpretation of Hills is “stupid.” DA Carson is stupid for what he has just told his reader. In the first place, this is Hills’ secondary argument, in which he is making the point that no scholar or scribe could have possibly had the resources such as a textual apparatus in a standard printed volume, and yes, a desk and chairs. Hills does this, appealing to Metzger, ironically enough. Hills’ point is that there is no evidence that such a blending of textual traditions could have been possible with the available resources and scribal practices, and thus the traditional text had to have occurred organically.

“Hence, the kind of mixture would be sporadic and unsystematic and not at all of the kind that would be required to produce the Traditional (Byzantine) New Testament text. Thus the theory that the Traditional Text was created by editors breaks down when carefully considered.”

Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended. 177.

Thesis 8: Textual arguments that depend on adopting the TR and comparing other text-types with it are guilty, methodologically speaking, of begging the issue; and in any case they present less than the whole truth

DA Carson unashamedly says that TR defenders “present less than the whole truth” after claiming Hills rejects the “recension” theory on the basis of lack of desks. He ends this point by saying that “slanted arguments in these issues ought to be rejected by lovers of truth” (61). At this point, Carson’s argumentation has devolved into misrepresenting other scholars and appealing to the emotions of his reader. In this section, his problem is with using the TR or KJV as a base text for comparison of other texts. This would be a valid point, if he didn’t do the same exact thing with Aleph and B. Rather than starting with the TR, he starts with the Critical Text. His disagreement is not in methodology, it is in the form of the text that is to be used as the standard for comparison.

Thesis 9: The charge that non-Byzantine text-types are theologically aberrant is fallacious

His argument in this thesis is that doctrine cannot be effected by the differences in the manuscript tradition.

However, I would argue that none of the text-types distinguished by contemporary textual criticism is theologically heretical in the way that defenders of the KJV sometimes suggest.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 62). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This doctrine says that even if a passage is not supposed to be in the text, the doctrine can be found elsewhere. This is standard fare for the “doctrine cannot be effected crowd.” One interesting thing to note is that Carson constantly uses the term “fallacious,” confusing it with the words, “I disagree.”

Therefore the charge that the non-Byzantine text-types are theologically aberrant is fallacious.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 66). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Again, something being fallacious entirely depends on the structure of an argument. Carson’s structure is that a difference in words in the Bible does not change the meaning of the Bible. According to his premise, the claim he is interacting with is fallacious – but that’s not the premise of the argument he is opposing. The argument that he is opposing goes like this:

The meaning of the Bible is communicated through words. If the words change, then the meaning changes. The words are changed between the traditional and critical text. Therefore, the meaning is different between the traditional and critical text.

Carson has not interacted with that argument other than to disagree with the premise and then call it fallacious, by which he means “I disagree.”

Thesis 10: The KJV was not accepted without a struggle, and some outstanding believers soon wanted to replace it

This argument is rather straight forward, the KJV wasn’t immediately accepted. Defenders of the KJV may have argued that in Carson’s day, but I have not seen that argument before, so I’ll leave it as is. In any case, I don’t think the reception argument hinges on the KJV being immediately adopted by every single Christian in the 17th century.

Thesis 11: The Byzantine text-type must not be thought to be the precise equivalent of the TR

This point is one of clarity that I think everybody is aware of, that the TR isn’t a pure majority text. There are minority readings in it.

Thesis 12: The argument that ties the adoption of the TR to verbal inspiration is logically and theologically fallacious

Carson correctly identifies what Scripture teaches about itself in this thesis.

The argument, briefly, is this: Since God inspired the Scriptures verbally, therefore He must have preserved them even to the details of their words; and these passages presuppose that God has done just that.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 69). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His argument is essentially that it is impossible to say that the TR or Byzantine tradition is the verbally inspired text. The Bible doesn’t promise “an infallible text-type” (72). He continues by saying,

“Third, to concede that total inerrancy or verbal inspiration is restricted to the autographs does not mean we have no sure word from God.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 73). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The way he deals with this doctrinal issue is the same way scholars and apologists deal with the problem today.

“In like fashion the vast majority of the New Testament is textually certain. (3) Even where the text is less than certain, high probability of this reading or that exists. (4) No doctrine and no ethical command is affected by the “probability” passages, but only the precise meaning of specific passages. (5) In my judgment the degree of uncertainty raised by textual questions is a great deal less than the degree of uncertainty raised by hermeneutical questions.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 73). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He ends by stating what I wish more Critical Text advocates knew:

“Fourth, the purpose and goal of textual criticism is to get as close to the original text as possible. To fail to recognize this is to misapprehend what textual criticism is all about.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 74). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In short, textual criticism is not about getting to the exact original, it is about getting “as close to the original text as possible.” Carson, while being necessarily constrained by his understanding of text-types, is quite accurate when discussing the purpose and goal of text-criticism.

Thesis 13: Arguments that attempt to draw textual conclusions from a prejudicial selection of not immediately relevant data, or from a slanted use of terms, or by a slurring appeal to guilt by association, or by repeated appeal to false evidence, are not only misleading, but ought to be categorically rejected by Christians, who, above all others, profess to love truth and to love their brothers in Christ

It seems that if Carson was slightly more self aware he might see the glaring problem with this thesis.

Thesis 14: Adoption of the TR should not be made a criterion of orthodoxy

I agree. I would also argue that believing that God gave His people the verbally inspired text, in its words, should be. The issue the TR advocate has with the Critical Text is first one of doctrine, and second that of the actual text. If we can agree that God actually preserved His whole word, we can have a conversation. The fundamental difference is that, as Carson has stated many times, the Critical Text advocate does not believe we have the exact inspired text today, and that the words of our Bibles can change and not effect doctrine. The TR is the logical end of having the correct Bibliology.


This chapter is the substance of this entire work so far. I think it would have been adequate just to publish this chapter. In Carson’s fierce attempt to defend the Critical Text, he refuted many of his own claims in the process. Overall, this chapter is again a rehashing of Metzger with a lot harsher language than the previous chapters. The main take away I will leave my reader with is this:

If the Bible is preserved in the whole manuscript tradition, and doctrine isn’t changed between manuscripts, why this book? Why attempt to discredit a textual tradition that Carson claims is correct doctrinally? This is a question I have not seen answered yet. According to the “no doctrine is affected” doctrine, I would expect Critical Text advocates to actually defend the Byzantine text, which they claim is doctrinally complete.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 6


In Chapter 6 of The King James Version Debate, Carson addresses the “Modern Defense of the Byzantine Text-Type.” I will take the liberty of interacting more heavily with the material in this chapter and the next, offering more of a critical review than a summary.

After some introduction, Carson describes the defenders of the TR as those who are critical of modern textual criticism starting with Westcott & Hort.

“In the opinion of the defenders of the TR, the textual-critical theories advanced by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort toward the end of the last century are both bad theology and bad textual criticism.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 40). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is most certainly still true. He continues to detail Westcott & Hort’s theory that is the foundation for the supremacy of the Alexandrian texts.

They argued that the Byzantine textual tradition (which includes the TR) did not originate before the mid-fourth century, and that it was the result of a conflation of earlier texts. This text was taken to Constantinople, where it became popular, spreading throughout the Byzantine Empire. This text-type, which I have designated Byzantine, Hort referred to as Syrian. Because, in their view, it was a conflation of the Western and Alexandrian texts, it is the fullest; but for the same reason it is the furthest removed from the autographs. Westcott and Hort gave much weight to the Alexandrian tradition; but preeminent emphasis was laid on B and א (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), considered to be a parallel development of the Alexandrian tradition and designated by them the “Neutral text.” Subsequent textual-critical work accepted the theories of Westcott and Hort, although with modifications.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 40-41). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

While Wescott & Hort’s theory, as far as I know, isn’t held to anymore, the general principle that Aleph and B are witnesses to the earliest text still seems to drive the Critical Text in its methodology and shape, despite the concept of text-types no longer being the driving framework for textual criticism. Carson’s analysis may show itself to be dated here as a result of being produced over 40 years ago, but I imagine many of the arguments he presents are still used today and therefore relevant to review.

Carson’s Presentation of the Byzantine Priority Position

After giving a very brief history of Westcott & Hort, Carson details what he understands to be the argument against the Alexandrian texts in favor of the Byzantine. This is my summary of his presentation which I have organized into 10 points (pp. 39-41):

  1. The Byzantine tradition stands closer to the original
  2. The other text types were rejected by the early church
  3. The Alexandrian text type omits material rather than the Byzantine adding
  4. These omissions were due to heretics such as Arians attempting to remove doctrines
  5. Codex Aleph and B are products of fourth century heresy and careless scholarship
  6. The Byzantine tradition was used from at least the fourth century and therefore cannot be ignored
  7. Westcott & Hort were heretics whose bias prevented them from engaging in objective text-criticism
  8. All modern versions based on the Critical Text deny verbal inspiration
  9. The reason there are no early Byzantine mss is due to heavy use
  10. Westcott & Hort’s theory demands circular reasoning
  11. The Alexandrian text is a revision of the Byzantine, not the other way around

Carson’s summary of the arguments still represent much of the argumentation we see today. I will write a brief analysis of each argument here:

Points 1-3 are essentially the foundation for rejecting the Alexandrian text, and represents the alternative argument to Alexandrian priority. Point 4 is a common observation of commentators throughout history on texts such as John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7 being removed, and it is more of an explanation of how the Alexandrian texts came to be rather than a foundational premise for the defense of the Byzantine text.

Point 5 and point 7 are arguments still made, mostly when defending the KJV and critiquing the Revised Version 1881. Aleph and B were indeed produced during a time in which Jerome writes about how Arianism nearly overtook the church, and Westcott & Hort did indeed deny verbal plenary inspiration along with substitutionary atonement and reportedly engaged in some strange practices including “communion with the saints,” so the argument against Westcott & Hort may be of interest to some. These arguments are often dismissed or even mocked, despite the Critical Text crowd heavily criticizing Erasmus as an objection to the Received Text. It’s okay to mock Erasmus, but definitely not Westcott & Hort!

I’ve never heard point 8 phrased in that way, but I have seen similar arguments. I will critique Carson’s formulation of the argument and provide what I think is a more legitimate form here:

If the creators of a text reject verbal plenary inspiration, and they deny that the text itself is the exact authorial, verbally inspired text, then it seems fair to make an argument similar to point 8 with proper nuance. As far as I have read, there aren’t any scholars who would say the NA28 for example, represents the exact verbally inspired text, though most would say that “we have good access to the text of the New Testament.” Though Westcott denied verbal plenary inspiration, many Critical Text scholars today hold to the doctrine, though it is not included in their text-critical methodology as set forth by volumes that describe the methodologies of modern textual criticism. The main problem with the structure of the argument as presented by Carson is that it would be a personification fallacy since an inanimate object cannot deny anything. So if you’re a TR advocate, it’s probably wise not to use this argument, lest you find yourself as an example in a book describing TR argumentation.

It would be better stated that the Critical Text is based off of a methodology that does not consider the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration in its axioms and the scholars who create critical texts do not claim that they have created an exact representation of the verbally inspired text, and therefore the Critical Text is not exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote by way of inspiration. I’m sure many have made this argument, I hope my tangential commentary provides some clarity for my reader.

Point 9, like point 4, is explanatory rather than foundational. Both the Critical Text and other text-critical positions start with a foundational premise and use the extant data to try and explain that data. There is a lot of data that is difficult to explain through the lens of Alexandrian priority, such as Byzantine readings in the Papyri and in the Alexandrian text. This points to the reality that the story we tell to explain the earliest manuscripts is ultimately informed by what we think of God’s providential care over the text and the way God preserved the Scriptures. Defenders on each side of the discussion present explanations for the manuscript data in the absence of extant meta-data of our manuscripts.

Point 10 is actually quite a good observation and I still think is valid today. There doesn’t seem to be any foundation for the argument that Aleph and B are “best” other than that they are the earliest extant we have. Even Carson has stated that late manuscripts can represent early readings, so the argument that I have seen in favor of the Alexandrian mss is simply that they are the “best because we think they are the best.” If you withdraw this assumption, in my opinion, the data actually points quite strongly to an early Byzantine text, and I don’t exactly see any data that can necessarily disprove that. This list demonstrates that the general arguments have not changed all that much, though in my opinion the CBGM data really adds a layer of intrigue into the Alexandrian vs. Byzantine discussion and seems to give a lot of validity to an early Byzantine text.


Carson ends the chapter by saying that pastors and laypersons are caught off guard by the Byzantine argument, and in many cases have no ability to refute such arguments. This has changed in the last 40 years, as most seminaries teach the Alexandrian priority argument from Metzger & Erhman’s textbook. The current climate seems to be that pastors trained at mainstream seminaries typically believe in some version of Alexandrian priority, though there are Byzantine movements throughout. In my opinion, the Byzantine argument is still quite strong in comparison to the Alexandrian priority theory.

If anything, we can learn that the Byzantine argument is sturdy, especially considering the fact that seminaries typically do not teach its merits alongside of Metzger and Ehrman, and if they do, it is often framed in the context of “King James Onlyism,” as we see in Dr. Andrew Naselli’s textbook which is endorsed by many seminaries and Bible translators. One piece of data that is hard to ignore is the fact that Byzantine readings are present in the Papyri, which really makes the case for Alexandrian priority much more difficult to defend as a “text-type” that predates the Byzantine tradition. Carson employs this chapter to frame the main thrust of his book, which is to offer a refutation to those who believe in the superiority of the TR and KJV, which we will see in Chapter 7.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 5


The fifth chapter of The King James Version Debate might as well be titled, “Erasmian Myths as Presented by Bruce Metzger.” Carson does what most Critical Text scholars do, frame the TR in light of Erasmus, even though Erasmus’ editions were not used by the translators of the KJV, and then attempt to discredit Erasmus’ text. That, among other reasons we will get to, should cause the reader to question the seriousness with which they should approach this chapter.

Irrelevant Details and Storytelling

Telling the story of Erasmus is the most popular approach to discrediting the Received Text and thus the KJV. This chapter includes the “Rush to Print” story, “The Missing 6 Verses at the End of Revelation,” the “TR is a Latin Backtranslation,” and the “Rash Wager” myth. The most egregious error in this chapter is his retelling of Metzger’s “Rash Wager” myth, which proposes that Erasmus included 1 John 5:7 after losing a bet. This has been debunked by Erasmus scholar HJ Dejong and the reason Erasmus included the passage can be found in his own annotations. According to Erasmus himself, he included the passage due to his belief that Christians would not read his text if he excluded it.

Thus far, Carson has been quite objective in his presentation, though in this chapter he devolves into storytelling and biased interpretation of the data. For example, he only considers the first 3 editions of Erasmus’ text relevant to describing what the Received Text is, despite the Beza’s edition being a better representation of the TR.

“Although Erasmus published a fourth and fifth edition, we need say no more about them here. Erasmus’s Greek Testament stands in line behind the King James Version; yet it rests upon a half dozen minuscule manuscripts, none of which is earlier than the tenth century.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 35-36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He does go on to explain the significance of Stephanus’ editions, which he does admit were based on “fourteen codices and from the Complutensian Polyglot,” but it is clear that Carson is trying very hard to say that the Received Text is just Erasmus’ edition. That is the substance of Carson’s argument in this chapter, that while the KJV translators, as he admits, “largely relied on Beza’s editions,” Stephanus’ and Beza’s editions are really no different than that of Erasmus. This of course is true in that the basic text form of all editions from the 16th century were very similar, but Carson engages in a smear campaign against Erasmus in order to frame the discussion in an uncharacteristically biased manner. He concludes his opinion on the TR by saying that it is a shoddy product with very little textual basis.

“Nevertheless the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late minuscule manuscripts.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The reason I say that Carson is biased here is due to the way he has framed the discussion. He has already made the point that counting manuscripts isn’t how textual criticism is done, yet he critiques the TR for being based on the manuscripts Erasmus had, despite those manuscripts being majority text representatives. Strangely enough, he makes sure to mention the 14 manuscripts used by Stephanus, but only considers the ones Erasmus is said to have used as relevant. He also fails to mention that the Critical Text is largely based off of only two manuscripts where it disagrees with the Majority Text. Carson admits that the TR is largely representative of the Majority Text shortly after, seemingly disproving his own point.

“The dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 38). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If we examine the form of Carson’s argument, we find that it is blatantly contradictory. On one hand, the TR should not be taken seriously because it was based on “a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late manuscripts,” and on the other hand, “the dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.” The major argument Carson seems to set forth is that even though the TR largely represents the Majority Text, since Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza did not have every manuscript that represents the Majority Text, it doesn’t matter. They only had a handful of the thousands of manuscripts that their text represents in most places, so therefore their text is only based off a handful of manuscripts. Just several pages prior, Carson accepts this as perfectly fine.

“The relationship of the witness to the text-types is extremely important, because if all the witnesses that support a particular reading are from one text-type, then they may all be copies of copies that spring from one manuscript. Manuscripts must therefore be weighed, and not just counted. Of course, if all those manuscripts came from one textual tradition, that tradition may in fact preserve the original reading; but this cannot be presumed from the number of manuscript witnesses per se.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The contradiction in Carson’s argument is so severe here that it is really difficult to understand what point he’s trying to make. If a text being based off of a handful of manuscripts makes is a bad text, Carson’s own text is far worse than the TR. He has deviated from the rules that he previously sets forth in order to make an argument against the TR, and damages his own argument as a result. Most frightening is his claim that the manuscripts used to create the TR were “haphazardly collected.” This is blatantly false, Erasmus had an exceedingly broad correspondence and is well documented in his knowledge of manuscripts, even if he only had a dozen in his possession. He even consulted Codex Vaticanus, though he evaluated it as a shoddy attempt to combine the Latin tradition with the Greek.


This chapter is the first time we see Carson show his hand as simply following in the line of Metzger. Not only does he include stories that in some cases are just factually incorrect such as the “Rash Wager,” he also contradicts himself according to the rules he sets forth in previous chapters. He judges the TR by a standard separate than he judges his own text, and for that this chapter cannot be taken seriously. He criticizes the TR for being based off a handful of manuscripts, even though the number of manuscripts Erasmus had is still more than the Critical Text is based off of (2). Further, the manuscripts Erasmus had represent a textual tradition that is represented by the vast majority of extant manuscripts.

This chapter typifies the inconsistent argumentation that is propagated by Critical Text advocates, and I imagine we will see more of the same in upcoming chapters. In my opinion, Carson should have saved his word count and simply started his book with this chapter.

The Incorrect Category Distinction of Text and Canon

Disclaimer: This article is pretty long. I intended for this to be a short article and it turned into an essay.

Framing the Discussion

Creating distinct categories for the text of the New Testament and the Canon of the New Testament is a theological and logical error because the substance of the Canon is defined by the text. It may be a helpful distinction to make when defining terms, but it does not make sense to handle them separately as different theological categories. It is an error that has been propagated by some of the most highly esteemed scholars within the modern Christian church. This is likely due to the fact that defending the canonical list of books is far more simple than defending the text within those books. It is probably the least controversial theological assertion within textual scholarship, and any disputes over which books belong are outright rejected by the larger Christian church.

The reason scholars must separate the text and canon into separate categories is because if they are not separate, then the current effort and defense of textual criticism is plainly foolish. The basic argument to defend this distinction is that the canon of the Scriptures arrived at an unofficial consensus in the Patristic era of the church while the text never achieved the same consensus. Those in the TR camp assert that this consensus occurred shortly after the arrival of the printing press to Europe.

It seems shocking that those who advocate for the Critical Text advocate for an open text of Scripture, but this is indeed the case. Any endorsement of the ongoing effort of textual criticism which claims to be after “the original” is an admission that the text of the New Testament is not closed. If it was the case that the Critical Text was closed, then there would be no effort of Textual Criticism of the New Testament that was endorsed by Christians.

Interacting with the Argument

The basic argument goes that while we can be certain of the originality of a high percentage of the New Testament, we cannot be absolutely certain. Dan Wallace has framed the most popular version of this argument, which James White employed in his most recent video debate with Pastor Jeff Riddle. The argument goes that while we cannot be absolutely certain of the text of the New Testament, we have no reason to be radically skeptical of the text either. He argues that there is a place somewhere between radical skepticism and absolute certainty when it comes to our Bible. There is a huge problem with this view from logical, theological, and practical perspectives.

Logical Problems with Separating Text and Canon into Separate Categories

Logically, if we say that the canon of Scripture is separate from the text of Scripture, we have to define what exactly makes up the substance of each of these categories. Category distinctions are useless unless we actually define what is in those categories.

In the context of this discussion, these two categories are typically defined as the books of the Bible (canon) and the text of the Bible (text). According to this argument, so as long as the canon is available, the Christian church has “The Bible” in her possession. “The Bible” exists despite the text not being clearly defined. This does not follow, as the substance of the Bible is not simply defined by the names of the books, it includes the text within those books. You would not say that an empty glass which formerly contained orange juice was a glass of orange juice now, simply because at one point there was orange juice in it. You would say it’s an empty glass.

The logical conclusion of this necessarily demands that if you say that we have the Bible (canon), but only have x% of the text, then we really only have x% of the Bible. The glass has some juice in it. See, the Bible is not defined only by the canon, it is defined by the text and the canon in combination. You can’t have a glass of orange juice without the glass and the liquid. That is why this category distinction is logically wrong. You cannot say you have something when the substance which defines that thing is not available.

The person demanding this category distinction is actually making the argument that “The Bible” is something that can be had without a clear definition of the substance which makes up the Bible. Simply put, the category distinction of “text” is made without actually defining what that text is. Using symbols, the argument looks like this:

T = Full Text

C = Full Canon

t = Established places in the text

x = Places of uncertainty within the Text

B = Books of Bible

The TR methodology says that C = T. The canon is made up of words, and without those words, it is not the canon. We have the canon and the text within that canon, therefore we have the Bible.

The Critical Text methodology says that C = B and that T = t + x. The canon is made up of the books, and those books make up the Bible. The Bible has words in it, but we do not need all of them to have the Bible. The Bible is not necessarily defined exactly by the words contained within it.

Since we cannot find the value of t + x empirically, Critical Text apologists make the argument that C = Bible. According to this argument, since we know the names of the books which belong in the canon, we have the Bible. We can “tinker” with the words and the outcome of that tinkering does not change the substance of the Bible, because the Bible isn’t defined by the text. This is the necessary conclusion if the text of the Bible can change while saying that we still have the same Bible we had prior to those changes.

Theological Problems with Separating the Text and Canon into Separate Categories

If the text of the Bible can be “tinkered” with or changed without the Bible changing, the Bible is not fundamentally defined by the text that is within it. This means that any theological statement which affirms that the Bible is the “very Word of God” is wrong. You would have to argue that the original Word of God as it was delivered to the prophets and apostles was the very Word of God when it was penned, and that the text that was delivered then is different from the text we have today. This is essentially what the doctrine of Inerrancy teaches. The original Bible was perfect, but the Bible we have today is not to one degree or another. This is incompatible with any doctrine which adopts any form of Sola Scriptura because according to this theological framework, we do not have the substance of the Scripture which is set forth by the doctrinal statement.

Practical Problems with Separating Text and Canon into Separate Categories

If it is the case that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were perfect, but we no longer have everything those original manuscripts set forth, then practically speaking, we have zero foundation for upholding any sort of Sola Scriptura doctrine as a foundation for all matters of faith and practice. Instead, we would have to adapt this doctrine to state that the Scriptures are sufficient to things pertaining to justification. It is often said, “All Bibles contain what is necessary for somebody to be saved.” This is fundamentally different from all things pertaining to faith and practice. Practically speaking, according to this doctrine, the Christian church today has everything necessary for salvation, and some or most of what they need for practice.

The Amount of Uncertainties Has Not and Cannot Be Defined

It is especially important to press on the fact that whatever percentage of certainty we have in the text of Scripture is necessarily arbitrary if we adopt the Critical Text method. At the time of writing this article, there have been zero attempts to define which words are safely in the text and which are not. So when a proponent of the critical text throws out a number, like 99.9%, it is not backed by any empirical analysis and is by definition arbitrary. If one wanted to actually make a claim like this, he would have to actually set forth a base text in which all of the included words are certain(t), and then present the words that are uncertain(x). If t + x = 1, he would have to define t and x and further make the bold claim that the collection of extant material = 1, or the original. Most modern formulations do not even set t + x = 1, because there is no way of establishing that 1 exists within our extant materials according to the critical text methodology. In actuality, the modern scholars say that .9 < t + x < 1. The problem is this boundary cannot be drawn and cannot be defined by the modern critical methodology, so the argument for any amount of certainty is purely founded on what we might call an “educated guess.”

The reality is, once the distinction between canon and text is made, one must necessarily argue for the preservation of each category on different grounds. The canon is said to be providentially preserved, but the text is not. Since “The Bible” is being defined primarily as the canon, proponents of this argument can claim that “The Bible” has been preserved, despite the substance that makes up the Bible having “many many places” where it is uncertain or unclear. This category distinction is made simply to affirm the doctrine of preservation at face value while really denying the substance of it. At best, this doctrine states that what we have is a partially preserved text, or a quasi-preserved text.

If you have made it this far, I will conclude by summarizing my argument in the simplest possible form. The distinction between text and canon is illogical because the substance of the canon is a necessary part of the definition of the canon itself. Just like an empty glass that formerly had orange juice in it isn’t a glass of orange juice, the books of Scripture that formerly had a completed text in it is not a Bible. The apologists for the critical text say that the glass of orange juice is 99.9% full, but also say that they have no way of telling how full the glass is. In other words, the glass is painted black and an unknown portion of the top of the glass has been sawed off. They have no way of telling how tall the original glass was or how much liquid the glass originally had, just that it has some amount of liquid in it now. They make the assumption that the liquid currently in the glass is at least 90% of the liquid that was originally there, but have no way of actually testing or supporting that hypothesis. They can say that we have a Bible because they can see the glass, but they cannot say what that Bible is because they cannot measure the liquid or even know how much liquid the glass originally held.

In opposition to this view, the traditional view of Scripture is that the canon contains the text, and God has preserved and delivered both to His church, even today.

Authorized Review – Chapter 6: Reading the KJV is Sinful


In chapter 6 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Mark Ward responds to 10 common objections to abandoning the KJV. Ward opens by stating that “The major theme of this book” is,

“How changes in English over the last four hundred years make it nobody’s fault that contemporary readers miss more than we realize when all we read is the KJV.”

Ibid., 88

He then claims that his intention in writing this book is “not in a quarrelsome spirit but in a spirit of servanthood.” He takes on the mantle of being the man to “burrow deep inside English” to report “what’s there.” While I can appreciate Ward’s stated intentions, the reader should be wise to what Ward is advocating for, and assess for themselves whether or not his mission is truly as upstanding as he describes. He makes this appeal at the end of the chapter, 

“I appeal directly to the 55 percent: Because you love the Lord, seek all the tools you can to understand his words, including contemporary English Bible translations. And because you love others, don’t stand in their way when they want to use those tools themselves.”

Ibid., 120-21

The reader should note that the above statement is “loaded.” Ward is implying that loving the Lord is connected to seeking “all the tools you can” which includes reading “contemporary English Bible translations.” Further, loving the Lord is connected to not standing in the way of others “when they want to use those tools themselves.” According to Ward, reading the KJV or advocating that others do the same is an issue for those that “love the Lord.”

The discerning reader may do well to ask, “Am I not loving the Lord if I read the KJV and advocate that others read it too?” The evidence for this is strong, considering he compares reading the KJV to a “stumbling block” and that it “adds difficulty” to reading God’s Word. In opposition to how he views himself in the opening words of the chapter, he is being extremely quarrelsome, even divisive. Despite saying, “I’m not doing what 1 Timothy 6:4 is talking about,” that is exactly what he is doing. The whole premise of his book so far is quarreling about words. 

In my review of chapter 6, I will make note of Ward’s primary arguments and respond to them. 

Responding to the Gainsayer

The difficulty with clearly offering a response to Ward is his constant use of anecdotes and conflicted messaging to support his arguments. If you strip out the anecdotes, there is not a whole lot of substance to his case against the KJV. He states that the KJV is deceitful due to the outdated language, and yet continues to emphasize that,

“The KJV is not unintelligible overall. As I said earlier, the fact that 55 percent of today’s Bible readers are reading the KJV suggests that the KJV is not impossibly foreign and ancient.”

Ibid., 118

He continues, 

“First, I say gently that it’s not clear to me that everyone who reads words they don’t understand notices that they’re not understanding. That’s why I told the story of the 10,000 people who memorized “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” I would suggest that until exclusive readers of the KJV read a contemporary English Bible translation like the ESV all the way through, and until they study in depth some individual passages, they won’t realize how much they’ve been misunderstanding. In my own experience, it took me many years of such reading to realize how much I had been missing.”

Ibid., 118

According to Ward, people believe that the KJV is intelligible because they simply do not know that it is not. He again appeals to his summer camp anecdote to support this point. He then makes an interesting claim when he says that the only people who do know that they cannot understand the KJV, are those that have read a modern version. I have personally seen this point parroted by others. What the reader should take note of is that Ward frequently pads his sentences by inserting, “I say gently” or that he has a “spirit of servanthood” while essentially telling his reader that they are too dense to read the KJV. This is why KJV readers have trouble trusting what Ward says about anything pertaining to the KJV and those that read it. An insult is still an insult even if you claim to be saying it “gently.” 

Even worse, Ward again continues to conflate an English speaker’s ability to read Latin to their ability to read the KJV, and to compare the Vulgate to the KJV. He actually claims that if the goal is a reverent translation, reading Latin “will accomplish the same goal.” In an attempt to employ rhetoric, Ward is actually arguing that English speakers would do better just to learn an entirely new language, Latin. Apparently it is better to learn an entirely new language than to understand the various “False Friends” found in the KJV. It is somewhat humorous that this is exactly what the scholarly types advocate for as it pertains to Greek and Hebrew. In any case, it appears as though Ward is attempting to convince non-KJV readers that the KJV is literally another language. I say “non-KJV readers” because anybody who has actually spent some time reading the KJV knows it is not in a foreign language. Ward appeals to 1 Corinthians 14, regarding speaking in tongues, to make the appeal that reading the KJV is a violation of the Scriptures. In Ward’s words, the KJV is both intelligible and also an “unknown tongue.”  

Ward argues that, 

“And literary peak or no literary peak, at some point English will have changed so much that the KJV will be entirely unintelligible. At what point between now and then should we revise or replace it? Even if our English is inferior (an if I don’t grant), the Bible ought to be brought out of someone else’s English and into ours.”

Ibid., 106-107

I do not agree with Ward, that such terms as “Apropo” and “snelbanjaloo” which he employs in his book are superior to the language found in the KJV. It is true that there will come a time when modern English is as far from the KJV as the KJV is from Middle English. That time is not now, and will not likely happen for some time unless English professors allow the grammatical conventions of Twitter to score A’s. In Ward’s typical manner of presenting two conflicted messages at once, he says initially that what he is advocating for has not been done, “The Bible ought to be brought out of someone else’s English and into ours.” He then goes on to say that, 

“This has, in fact, been done in the New King James Version. It uses precisely the same Greek New Testament text as the KJV, but it uses contemporary English. (The same is true for the KJV 2000, the World English Bible, and the Modern English Version, among others.)”

Ibid., 117

Despite the fact that other translations are available, Ward again makes reading the KJV a sin issue when he says, 

“Third, even if you do understand the KJV just fine, it’s not in vernacular English—and that means something for how you treat others, not just yourself. Don’t stop Cody and Javante and Jiménez (real names of precious teens I served in outreach ministry for many years) from hearing the Bible in words they can immediately understand. Don’t make them memorize “you hath he quickened”—even if you take time to explain quickened, which not all youth workers do—when they could memorize “he made you alive” (Col 2:13 CSB). Don’t step in the way of your own children or grandchildren inheriting what is their birthright as Protestants—no, as Christians: the unadulterated words of God translated into the vernacular. You have liberty to read whatever translation you want and, as far as I can tell, no ecclesiastical authority has the power to stop you. I certainly don’t. But I urge you to set aside your privileges for others’ sake when it comes to Bible teaching and other discipleship work (1 Cor 9:1–12). Children and new converts should not be given copies of the KJV. Paul said no to that option when he tied intelligible words to edification in 1 Corinthians 14.”

Ibid., 119-120

This statement is the rhetorical equivalent of a temper tantrum. After spending several chapters trying to convince people that they cannot read the KJV and that it is literally another language, he effectively says to those that disagree with him, “I don’t care if you say you can understand it, other people cannot, and therefore you are sinning.” This kind of exegesis is the foundation for spiritual abuse. Ward is arguing that the continued use of the KJV is a stumbling block and a violation of Scripture itself, and therefore using the KJV is a direct violation of Scripture. He says this plainly in his own words, 

“You may wish to put a stumbling block in your own path in order to increase your resilience and skill—like linguistic resistance training. But we have a direct biblical command that is relevant here: don’t put stumbling blocks in someone else’s way (Rom 14:13)…I appeal directly to the 55 percent: Because you love the Lord, seek all the tools you can to understand his words, including contemporary English Bible translations. And because you love others, don’t stand in their way when they want to use those tools themselves.”

Ibid., 120


In chapter 6 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward presents one way to use the KJV, and offers what he believes to be “misuses” of the KJV. The only use Ward has offered so far in this work is to be used as a reference to determine the difference between the singular and plural “you.” According to Ward, the misuse of the KJV includes reading it as a primary translation and using it to teach and evangelize.

He has stated that while most Bible readers read the KJV, that the real problem is that these people simply do not know that they cannot understand it. His solution is an updated KJV, which according to his own words, has already been done in the NKJV, KJV 2000, and MEV. This being the case, an updated KJV is not what Ward is arguing for, he is arguing that people who read the KJV must stop. He appeals to Scripture to state that those who do read the KJV are in violation of Scripture’s teaching, and that they are causing themselves, and others, to stumble by reading it. 

It is becoming more and more clear that what I have identified as “conflicted messaging” is really a subtle rhetorical strategy to communicate his actual point – that practically speaking, there are only “misuses” of the KJV. Ward says that the KJV is intelligible, but not actually. He says that he loves the KJV, but those that use it are sinning by doing so. He says that all he wants is an updated KJV, but also that that has already been done. He establishes his primary argument, that people don’t actually know how to read the KJV, based on his own personal difficulty reading it and other anecdotes. He tells his reader that if they do not know Greek, they should “humbly acknowledge that their opinions about textual criticism” essentially do not matter. 

Ward does in this chapter what many Christians are growing weary of – speaking down from the scholarly high tower. He is the expert, not you. If you disagree with Ward, then you are literally sinning. If you, a “non-specialist,” have an opinion on textual criticism that goes against the academic meta, it isn’t wise to comment in the discussion. He then advises those of his readers to subvert the authority of their KJV reading pastors by instructing them to ask their pastor to recommend a Bible “In their own language.” Not only is this divisive, it is misinformed, and offensive, especially to myself, who recognizes the KJV as a beautiful articulation of the English language. This chapter solidifies my thought that Ward’s problem is one only a scholar could have.

A Disputation on the Modern Doctrine of the Text of Holy Scripture


There are many times where a theological position is presented, and it either has to be absolutely correct, or absolutely not correct. There are Scriptural realities that are clear, and there are other areas where external proofs drive an argument outside of the Scriptures. Where a Scriptural teaching is clear, the consequence of that teaching must necessarily conclude obedience in faith and practice.

There are a number of theological positions where the Scriptures are plainly clear, and yet Christians believe them to be unclear. A great example is the Scriptural proof from 2 Tim. 3:16 which demonstrates the foolishness of continuationist theology. If all Scripture is sufficient for instruction in subjects pertaining to faith and practice, then everything that is not Scripture is not sufficient for faith and practice. The scope of things that are not Scripture include words of knowledge, prophecies, and so on. There is a clear teaching from this Scripture that demands that Scripture and applications thereof, not ongoing revelation, be the only standard for instruction, encouragement, correction. 

The problem is that many Christians, when faced with this Scripture, will ignore it, and provide another unrelated text to justify the continuationist doctrine. This kind of rhetorical misdirect is often the source of much frustration when it comes to the arguments presented in support of the Received Text position. A proof is presented that necessitates the rejection of one position and the adoption of another, and instead of accepting the necessary consequence of that Scriptural proof, another unrelated argument will be presented in a rhetorical attempt to avoid being compelled by a clear Scriptural reality. In this article, I will present such an argument, and reveal that any meaningful defense of preservation must end in the defense or adoption of the Masoretic Hebrew, and Greek Received Text as the providentially preserved and delivered original language Scriptures. 

Framing the Discussion

God immediately inspired the text of Holy Scripture in the Old Testament in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New testament in the Greek language. This is necessary, as the language used to write the Scriptures during the time of the people of God of old was Hebrew, and in some places Aramaic, and the language used to write the Scriptures during the time of the people of God in the church age was Greek. Translations of such languages may be considered mediately inspired insofar as they represent these original texts. 

It is often the case that modern “conservative” Christians refuse to make the distinction between immediately and mediately inspired, and the result is that many Christians believe there is no Bible available today that is perfectly inspired. They say the Bible is inspired, while also saying that there is not a text or translation that contains that text perfectly. This necessitates that a distinction must be made between “The Bible” and the printed versions Christians actually read. “The Bible” is perfect and inspired, we just don’t have it.

The modern doctrine of inspiration teaches that only the original autographs were perfectly inspired, and what is remaining of the manuscripts today are only inspired insofar as we can prove with evidence that these texts are original. Paradoxically, none of the scholars responsible for this task are trying to find the original, or believe they can find the original. They may maintain that the original may be found, but simultaneously affirm that there is no way to verify that the original has been found, even if we actually had it. This in itself is nothing new, but it is clear that most Christians have not considered that the theological foundation of the modern doctrine of inspiration, reflected in the Chicago Statement, is propped up on the assumption that the original can be found by modern textual criticism. The flaw with the modern doctrine of inspiration can be summarized in this statement:

The Bible is inspired insofar as individual texts can be proven original by textual criticism. Textual criticism is not trying to find the original nor can the methods prove that a text original, and therefore the Bible is not inspired. 

Since the mechanism of authenticating the Scriptures in the modern doctrine of inspiration is textual criticism, this must be the case. Until the axioms of modern textual criticism walk back from the language of “initial text” or rewrite the Chicago Statement, it doesn’t actually set forth a meaningful doctrinal position on inspiration. It actually demonstrates that the Bible isn’t inspired, because it cannot prove any text original. 

In order for the Scriptures to be preserved, these original texts must be preserved materially and in substance, and available to the people of God today. This concept of materially and substantially means that every word that comprises every thought is preserved. If any word has fallen away which results in the change or loss of meaning, then the Scriptures have not been preserved. The mainstream, “conservative” view is adequately represented by Daniel Wallace. 

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

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes, xii).

Here is the Big Lie of what is called “Evangelical Textual Criticism”: that the Bible can be inspired and preserved, while at the same time not existing in any original language text or translation. In other words, “The Bible” is inspired and preserved and perfect, we just don’t have it, and never will. This reality is very frequently avoided by employing rhetorical misdirects, ad hominem attacks on Erasmus and Beza, and reinterpretation of historical theology. The majority text and Received Text views on inspiration and preservation are absolutely irrelevant when it comes to resolving the contradictions with the modern view represented by the Chicago Statement. The fact is, the modern critical position on the text of Holy Scripture is untenable, and its logical end is that there is a “Bible,” we just don’t have it. 

This is not Scriptural. Any theological position that says that we do not have a Bible, is plainly, and clearly, heterodox.  

The Scriptural Case for Scripture

“GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”

(Heb. 1:1)
  1. God has spoken objectively in two ways, first through the fathers and the prophets in the Old Testament, and secondly by Jesus Christ in the last days
  2. This way of speaking was recorded in writing in the Old and New Testament

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

(2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  1. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God
  2. The Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation
  3. All Scriptures are profitable for all matters of faith and practice 
  4. Thus, all Scripture is given by God, and is purposed for the use of the salvation of men and for the further training of righteousness – all matters of faith and practice

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

(Mat. 5:18)
  1. All is not fulfilled yet because Christ has not returned
  2. One jot or one tittle shall not pass until all is fulfilled
  3. Therefore the mechanism of such fulfillment in the last days, the Scriptures, will not pass away until all be fulfilled (Heb. 1:1)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

(Mat. 24:35)
  1. Christ’s words will not pass away
  2. Christ’s words are the way that God has spoken to the people of God in the last days
  3. Therefore, the manner of God speaking in the last days, Christ’s words, will not pass away

      “The words of the LORD are pure words:

      As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

      Thou shalt keep them, O LORD,

      Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”

(Ps. 12:6)
  1. The words of the Lord are kept by the Lord, and shall be preserved forever

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

(Jn. 10:27)
  1. God’s people hear his voice
  2. God has spoken in these last days through His Son, Jesus Christ 

There are two necessary conclusions that must be accepted by this argument and the supporting proofs. The first is that Christians must accept the doctrinal statement that the Scriptures are inspired, perfect, preserved, available, and identifiable. That means that any theological position which affirms that a) any part of the Scriptures has fallen away or b) that we do not know what those Scriptures are is a heretical position on the text of Holy Scripture. In the first place, to reject that the text of Scripture is not preserved is to affirm that the Scriptures are fallible, that God has lied. In the second place, to affirm that we do not know what those Scriptures are is to say that the way that God saves and sanctifies men is fallible, and God has failed in His purpose to save and preserve a people in every generation. 

The Disconnect Between the Scriptures and the Big Lie

The disconnect between this argument, the underlying Scriptural proofs, necessary conclusions, and the modern articulation of the doctrine of Scripture is that the modern doctrine affirms that a) parts of Scripture have fallen away, b) that the Scriptures are still preserved, and c) that this does not affect doctrine. Where the disconnect occurs is when both a) parts of Scripture have fallen away and b) that the Scriptures are preserved because c) this does not affect doctrine. C) cannot logically follow if a) and b) are both true. Therefore, those who adopt a), b), and c) adopt such a position in spite of the reality that c) cannot logically follow if both a) and b) are true. 

If it is true that the Word of God is inspired, perfect, and preserved, then it must follow that the preserved Scriptures are in fact available and identifiable to the people of God because the Scriptures are the means that God uses to save and sanctify men. Thus, the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available, and identifiable. The Scriptures cannot be inspired and preserved and not available or identifiable, or they do not serve the purpose which God gives them, the salvation and sanctification of men. All of these must be true, or none are true. 

Now I will apply this argument that the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available, and identifiable to the textual reality of manuscripts, printed original language texts, and translations of the Holy Scriptures. I will then demonstrate that the modern doctrine of Scripture is incompatible with this proof. 

The Demonstration

If a Christian believes that the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available and identifiable, then he cannot hold to a position that affirms the modern doctrine of Scripture, which affirms that, “We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain” (Myths and Mistakes, xii). 

This doctrinal position is affirmed by all of the top scholars in Evangelical New Testament Textual Criticism including Dan Wallace, Peter Gurry, Elijah Hixson, and Tommy Wasserman, to name a few. This doctrinal position is also affirmed by other scholars in textual criticism, including Bart Ehrman, DC Parker, and Eldon J. Epp. There are no textual scholars, to my knowledge, that would not affirm this theological statement, or affirm it with some additional nuance. 

This directly applies to manuscripts, printed original texts, and translations because it demonstrates the reality that modern evangelical scholars do not believe that the text of Holy Scripture is available or identifiable. If the Scriptures are not available or identifiable, they are not preserved. And if the Scriptures are not preserved, then they are necessarily not inspired, as the argument and proofs above demonstrate. Therefore, the modern doctrine of Scripture, as articulated by the evangelical textual scholars and associated apologists, is incompatible with Scripture. This being the case, it is clear that the text that these scholars and apologists argue as “best”, is necessarily not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable. Thus, any Christian who adheres to such a doctrine and text must a) adopt the reality that “The Bible” is not preserved or b) argue that it is preserved despite the underlying theological position that it is not preserved. 

This is how this theological position is justified. In the modern doctrine of Scripture, “The Bible” is simply the pile of extant manuscripts, not one particular text. Since the differences between the manuscripts “do not affect doctrine,” this must be the case. 

The necessary conclusion of this position is that not only is a) the modern critical text(s) inspired and preserved, but b) that the Received Text is inspired and preserved. If the text of Holy Scripture is preserved but not totally available, and the texts that are available “Do not affect doctrine” between the two most different manuscripts, then one cannot both affirm that a) the text of Holy Scripture is inspired and b) the Received Text is not inspired. Theologically, Christians adhering to this position must defend the TR as inspired if they wish to defend the critical text as inspired. Since the entire critical text position is founded in the Received Text being fallible, those in the critical text camp cannot logically affirm both a) the critical text is inspired and b) the Received Text is inspired, or they have fundamentally undermined their own position and must admit that the Bible is not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable.  

The major dilemma then, is that those in the critical text camp must paradoxically contend against a text that they must theologically affirm as inspired. Ironically, by affirming against the Received Text, critical text advocates are actually rejecting the inspiration of their own text. By continuing to argue against the Received Text while advocating for the critical text, one must admit that doctrine is changed, or the case for the critical text falls apart. The entire substance of the critical text argument is that the underlying manuscripts of the critical text are better. If these manuscripts are better, they must be better in material and substance. They must be better in meaning, or they are not better. The act of arguing for the supremacy of the critical text is an open admission that doctrine has been changed and that the Bible is not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable.

If the critical text is based off of better manuscripts, a better doctrinal foundation, it must follow that the doctrine of inspiration and preservation must be rejected. The text of the church was flawed, now it’s better. In other words, God failed formerly, but is in the process of fixing His mistake over the last 200 years, and is not finished yet. 


The Scriptural and logical realities of adopting the Critical Text are severe for the modern church. It means that a great multitude of Christians have rejected inspiration by necessity of adopting the critical text while also rejecting the Received Text. Most Christians have done this simply because they trust the word of their favorite critical scholar or apologist. The reality of this modern doctrine is that one cannot Scripturally adhere to inspiration while also rejecting the Received Text. In other words, to reject the TR is to reject inspiration. In order to logically adopt inspiration and the critical text, one must also adopt the Received Text as equal to the critical text, or admit that doctrine has been changed, and thus admitting that the Bible is not inspired or preserved. Some side step this argument by saying, “The Received Text is inspired where it can be proven to be original”. This is not a logical response because the method of authentication that is being appealed to is not capable of identifying the original, nor does it claim to.

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

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes, xii).

The practical reality is that there is no justification for this doctrine, nor is there a justification to attack the Received Text. In fact, when critical text advocates attack the Received Text, they are attacking their own doctrinal foundation for the text of Scripture. Critical text advocates can attack Erasmus, they can use the term “fundamentalist” and “KJV Onlyist” pejoratively, but these are not cogent arguments, they are rhetorical devices. Current articulations of the critical position on the text of Scripture cannot justify using the terms “original”, “inspired”, or “preserved” without redefining those words. 

This being the reality, modern scholars, apologists, and advocates will continue using the words “original”, “inspired”, and “preserved”, despite not having a theological framework that actually supports the use of such terms. This is the fundamental problem that needs to be solved. The problem with the critical text is not Erasmus, nor is it “fundamentalists”, nor is it “KJV Onlyists”. The problem is with the critical text theology itself.

Revisiting the Fatal Flaw Argument Against the Traditional Text


One of the primary purposes of this blog is to give people confidence that the Bible they read is God’s inspired Word. Attacks on the Bible of the Protestant Reformation often send people into a spiral of doubt and can damage one’s faith in approaching, reading, praying over, and meditating upon the Holy Scriptures. An argument frequently leveled at the Bible of the Protestant Reformation is what may be called The Fatal Flaw Argument. I initially addressed this argument on the Agros Blog a while back, but since that time I have seen it pop up all over my Facebook feed, so I thought it would be helpful to write a more pointed response than the one I initially crafted. The argument is constructed like this:

  1. The Bible must be able to be reconstructed from extant manuscripts in the event that all printed editions of the Scriptures are wiped off the face of the planet in order to be used, read, preached from, etc. 
  2. If a Bible cannot be reproduced exactly by reconstructive methodologies, than it should not be used, read, preached from, etc. 
  3. The Traditional Text, as it exists in the Textus Receptus cannot be reproduced exactly if a reconstruction effort using a “consistent” methodology was employed in the event of a printed edition extinction event, therefore it should not be used, read, preached from, etc. 

This argument may seem appealing, but it actually undermines the validity of essentially every Bible on the market today, including the ESV, NASB, and NIV. The fatal flaw in this so called Fatal Flaw Argument is that there is not a single Bible available today that could be reconstructed exactly if this hypothetical extinction event occurred. The primary assumption of this argument is that there are a set of canons that could be consistently applied to manuscripts which would, in theory, produce the current form of the Greek New Testament. The obvious issue with this is that the Modern Critical Text, as it exists in the Editio Critica Maior, has yet to even produce a text in the first place. It will be finished in ten years or so down the road, and even when finished, it is more of a dataset of texts than a text itself. The onus of the person making this argument is to first demonstrate that they have a text in the first place.

Prior to beginning my analysis of this argument, it is interesting to point out that it assumes the Received Text and the Modern Critical Text are inherently different, which some do not readily admit. This is true in two ways. The first is that it grants in its premise that the methodologies employed by the textual scholars during the Reformation era were fundamentally different than the methodologies employed today. This is apparent in the reality that modern text-critical methods could not produce the text of the Protestant Reformation with its current canons. The second is that grants that the actual text form is inherently different, as the claim is that the Received Text could not be reproduced, while the Modern Critical Text allegedly could. In any case, in order to make this argument, one has to be willing to apply the argument to all texts, not just the Textus Receptus. In the event that this hypothetical extinction event occurs, a new form of the Bible would emerge, even if the same methods are consistently applied. D.C. Parker, the textual scholar leading the ECM team for the Gospel of John currently, says this: 

“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 do not employ this quote to disparage Dr. Parker, but rather to demonstrate the reality that even in today’s current text-critical climate, without an absurd hypothetical extinction event of printed editions, the editors of Greek New Testaments would seem to refute the premise of the argument itself by their own words. This further demonstrates that this argument does not only attack the Textus Receptus, but all Bibles. That being said, I do not think this argument is wise to use, no matter which Bible you read. It is an open invitation to attack the validity and authority of every single Bible on the market for the sake of winning a debate against Christians who read a traditional Bible. This is a good reminder that we should be careful not to attack the authority of the Scriptures in our attempts to defend the current Bible we think is best. That being said, there are three reasons I believe this argument should be abandoned. 

The Fatal Flaw Argument Against the Traditional Text Rejects God’s Providence 

The first reason this argument should be abandoned is that it rejects God’s providence in the transmission, preservation, and inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. The assumption on all sides of this discussion is that when somebody reads a Bible in their native tongue, they are reading God’s inspired Word. This is true for Christians who read the ESV as well as the KJV. If a Christian does not believe that their Bible is inspired, I’m not sure why they are even reading it, as it is simply like any other document produced by humans in history. It may be a valuable book of moral tales, but if the Bible is not inspired, it is not more special than the Iliad or Cicero. 

That being said, this argument assumes that what God has done in time does not matter as it pertains to the transmission of the text and reception of the Bible by the people of God. The only effort that matters is the one that is happening now, which is currently ongoing. In any view of inspiration, whether it be Warfield or Westminster, God’s providence is recognized as the instrument working in the production of Bibles. Warfield believed that the efforts of textual scholars in his day were an act of God’s special providence in giving the Bible back to the people of God. The Westminster Divines affirmed overwhelmingly that by God’s special care and providence, the Scriptures had been kept pure in all ages. 

That means that the Bibles that have been produced matter, because the printed texts are the texts that Christians use for reading, preaching, and evangelism. Even if one believes that a particular Bible is of lesser quality, Christians should find unity in the fact that God uses translations to speak in so far as they represent the original texts. If printed editions and translations do not matter, then all Christians need to quickly learn Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek, as well as gain access to the compendium of extant manuscripts, so they can read a Bible. That means that regardless of the Bible one reads, all Christians believe together that God Himself has delivered it. The Textual Discussion comes down to determining which text God preserved. In proposing this hypothetical, one is simply saying, “It doesn’t matter what God did in time, the only thing that matters is what is going on now.” I don’t know many Christians, let alone any Calvinists, who would ever say that what God did providentially in time does not matter. 

The Fatal Flaw Argument Against the Traditional Text Assumes That All Current Bibles Are Not God’s Word

The fundamental problem with this argument and the second reason it should be abandoned is that it takes away every single Bible from every single believer. If a consistent methodology must be employed to create a single text from the manuscripts, then it seems that nobody has a Bible, or ever will have a Bible. The fact is that different methodologies have been employed since the first effort of creating printed texts in the 16th century. Erasmus employed different methods than Beza, and Beza employed different methods that Hort, and Hort employed different methods than D.C. Parker and the editors of the ECM. Not only that, there are a wealth of different opinions among textual scholars in between, such as Karl Lachmann, Maurice Robinson, H.C. Hoskier, Edward F. Hills, and even among the editors of the ECM there are differences in opinion on the manuscript data. This argument assumes that all of the editors of Greek New Testaments today are unified in their opinions on the text. The reality is, that they are not. 

Further, if a consistent methodology is required, which methodology should be considered the “most consistent”? Which methodology is going to be used in this reconstruction effort after this hypothetical extinction? The CBGM hasn’t been fully implemented and thus hasn’t been fully analyzed. The existence of the CBGM itself demonstrates that Hort and Metzger didn’t have it all right. That is not even taking into consideration the evolution of opinions on scribal habits, “Text Families”, and weighing manuscripts. Did scribes generally copy faithfully or did they tend to smooth out readings and add orthodox doctrines into the text? If all the printed editions were wiped out, I imagine that includes the ECM. Since the ECM is already going to take ten more years to complete, that means that the people of God would simply be without a Bible for at least ten more years. The argument is so incredibly asinine it is hard to believe that people are using it at all. 

The fact is, that all Christians have to look back at history to have confidence in the Bible they read. The current methodology, the CBGM, isn’t fully implemented yet, and won’t be for another ten years. That means that every single Christian is trusting that the text-critical work done already is the method God used in delivering His Word to His people to some degree or another. The difference is in how Christians believe that God accomplished this task. Some believe the Bible was preserved up to the Protestant Reformation, and thus look to the printed texts of that era which have that text form. Some believe that the Bible was preserved in caves, monasteries, and barrels until the 19th century, and look to the printed texts produced in that era. Some even believe differently than either of these two positions. No matter which view of the text one holds, every single Christian looks into history to see God’s providence in their view of the text. Either that or they believe that all the Bibles up to this point aren’t complete or correct Bibles, and are patiently awaiting 2030 when the ECM is finished. In every case, the argument fundamentally assumes that the work done in history does not matter and should not be considered as a valid “methodology”.  

The Fatal Flaw Argument Against the Traditional Text Misleads the People of God 

The final flaw in the Fatal Flaw argument against the Traditional Text and the third reason it should be abandoned is that it is horribly misleading. It makes Christians think that the canons of modern textual criticism are settled and unified. The fact is that scholars are still discussing the proper application of what the CBGM is creating, and how it should be understood. This argument leads people to believe that if all of the ESV Bibles and the printed texts it was translated from were raptured suddenly, that the methods of textual criticism could give them the same exact Bible. Unless somebody has the all of the underlying readings of the ESV memorized, this simply could not be done. Even if somebody were to have all the readings memorized, they wouldn’t be applying any methodology, they would be copying down what they memorized. The reality is that even without a hypothetical extinction of all printed texts, the methods being implemented are not producing the same text time and time again. With each new iteration of the modern methods, new Bibles are being produced. In some cases, these new Bibles have significant changes. That is not my opinion, that is simply what is happening. There is a reason that Crossway removed the title “Permanent Edition” from the prefatory material of the 2016 ESV. 

That is why, in my blog, I focus so heavily on the doctrine of Scripture. The current efforts of textual criticism are not capable of producing a stable text. In fact, a stable or final text is not even the goal. The goal of modern textual criticism as it exists in the effort of the ECM is to construct the history of the surviving texts of the New Testament, not a final authorial text for all time. The only way the modern critical methods could produce a stable text would be to strip out all of the verses that are contested by variation. Even then, new manuscript finds and reevaluation of the data could just as easily cause that text to change. The fact is that every single Christian looks back to history when determining which Bible is best. The one method that every Christian uses to decide which Bible they read is the one method that modern critical methods do not use – the reception of readings by the people of God. Christians will never be able to escape their history, as hard as they may try. In an effort to defend the ongoing effort of modern textual criticism of the New Testament, many Christians have blatantly undermined the authority of the Scriptures as a whole. If the goal is to give Christians a defense for their Bible, this argument is absolutely not it. In fact, this so called Fatal Flaw Argument hands the Bible directly to the critics of the faith.  


At the end of the day, the goal of this conversation is give confidence to Christians that when they read their Bible, they are reading the Word of God. This kind of argument undermines everybody reading a Bible, no matter which version they read. In fact, it is almost identical to the argument that Bart Erhman makes against Christians who adhere to the modern critical text. When we begin taking our cues from Bart Ehrman, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate. In any case, there is a consistent methodology that Christians can employ to receive the Bible they read, and it does not involve trusting the ongoing reconstruction effort of the history of the New Testament text. 

The fact is that God has spoken (Deus dixit). God speaking is the means that God has always used to condescend to man, from the time of Adam in the garden. His speaking is the covenant means of communication to His covenant people. God will not fail in His covenant purpose, which means that God will not fail to communicate to His people (Mat. 5:18). Since God has ordained the Scriptures as the means of covenant communication in these last days (Heb. 1:1), then the preservation of His Word is intimately tied with His covenant purpose. Since God has not failed, and cannot fail, then He has not failed in speaking, or preserving the Word He spoke. In every generation, from the time of Adam, God has spoken to His people clearly and without error. The introduction of textual variants in manuscripts did not thwart this effort. In every generation, in faithful copies of manuscripts, God preserved His Word. This preservation did not somehow stop in the fourth century, or even in the 16th century. Which means, that if the Bible is indeed preserved, it was still preserved at the time of the Protestant Reformation. If this is the case, then the manuscripts which were used during the time of the Protestant Reformation were indeed preserved. Which means the text-critical work done during this time was done using preserved copies of the New Testament. The manuscripts did not suddenly become preserved during the 16th century, they were the ones handed down in faithful churches from the time of the Apostles. The alternative seems to be that God stored His word away in barrels, caves, and monasteries lined with skulls.

This Fatal Flaw argument, fundamentally, is simply saying, “We don’t have a Bible, so you can’t either”. This is not the way you defend the text of the New Testament, it is how you destroy the validity of the text of the New Testament. It does not matter which Bible you read, attacking the validity of all Bibles in order to win an argument is not appropriate, or necessary. At the end of the Textual Discussion, Christians still need to have a Bible they feel they can read and use. All Christians employ the same methodology when selecting a Bible at the end of the day. They look back in time, and receive a text based on their understanding of inspiration and preservation. Some receive a text they believe was preserved until the fourth century which has been reconstructed to some degree or another, and others receive a text they believe was preserved up to the Reformation and beyond. Others do not receive any one text, but all of the differing texts. The vast majority of Christians are not textual scholars, do not know the original languages, and thus are at the mercy of various scholarly opinions. The average Christian wants to know, “Can I trust my Bible?” If our efforts are not concentrated in that direction, we have already failed.  

Count the Cost, Christian

A Sea of Doubt

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

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

Counting the Cost of Playing in the Low Tide

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

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

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

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

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

The Shallows at High Tide

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

Count the Cost, Christian

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

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

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

Further Reading

Has the CBGM Gotten Us to 125AD?


So it has been said that the CBGM has been able to “get us to 125AD” as it pertains to the New Testament manuscripts with its analysis – or at least in Luke 23:34. Anybody who makes such a claim clearly has no working understanding of the Munster Method, or at least is choosing to use an invisible rod to bash people over the head. In any case, I thought it would be helpful to examine some potential weaknesses in the methodology in a series of articles. To begin, I thought I would discuss the reality that the CBGM is still in need of critical analysis. Dr. Peter Gurry, in his work, A Critical Examination of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method, as a part of the Brill Academic series New Testament Tools and Studies writes, “Despite the excitement about the CBGM and its adoption by such prominent editions, there has been no sustained attempt to critically test its principles and procedures” (2).

So my advice to any of those who believe such a bold claim that the CBGM can “get us to 125AD” should put on their discernment ears and wait until 2032 when the effort can be accurately examined in full. If its use in analyzing the Catholic Epistles is any indication of the kind of certainty it will provide, I now direct the reader to open their Nestle-Aland 28th Edition, if they own one, and examine the readings marked with a black diamond. It should be loudly noted that the methodology of the CBGM has not been fully examined, and I agree with Dr. Gurry when he writes, “If the method is fundamentally flawed, it matters little how well they used it” (4).

The CBGM and the Initial Text

Before the Christian church preemptively buys into this method wholesale, it is important to first recognize that there is not uniform agreement, even in the early implementation process of the CBGM, by all that this methodology will result in establishing what is being called the Initial Text. Bengt Alexanderson, in his work, Problems in the New Testament: Old Manuscripts and Papyri, the New Coherence-Based-Genealogical Method (CBGM) and the Editio Critica Maior (ECM), writes, “I do not think the method is of any value for establishing the text of the New Testament” (117). What should be noted loudly for those that are falling asleep, is that a significant shift has occurred under the noses of laypeople in the effort of textual scholarship as it pertains to the New Testament text.

That shift is the abandonment of the search for the Original or Authorial text for the pursuit of what is being called the Initial Text. Dr. Gurry writes, “These two terms [authorial or original text] have often been used interchangeably and their definition more often assumed than explained. Moreover, that this text was the goal of the discipline remained generally undisputed until the end of the twentieth-century. It was then that some scholars began to question whether the original text could or should be the only goal or even any goal at all” (90, bracketed material added). Regardless of whether this is the method one decides to advocate for, let it be said that this is indeed a shift, for better or for worse. Dr. Gurry continues, “Rather than clarify or resolve this debate, the advent of the CBGM has only complicated the matter by introducing an apparently new goal and a new term to go with it: Ausgangstext, or its English equivalent “initial text” (90-91). The problem of defining terms will always gray the bridge between academia and the people, so hopefully this article helps color in the gap.

While the debate rages on between the scholars as to how the Initial Text should be defined, I will start by presenting what might be considered as the conservative understanding of it and work from there. Gerd Mink, who is credited with the first use of the term Ausgangstext, employs the term to mean “progenitor” or the “hypothetical, so-called original text”(92). That is to say that the goal of the CBGM in theory is to produce the text that the rest of the manuscripts flowed from. This sounds great, in theory, but there remains a great distance to cover from saying that the CBGM should produce this Initial Text and the CBGM has produced this Initial Text. In any case, the use of the terminology “Original Text” is not employed in the same way as it was historically, and there is much deliberation as to whether Mink’s proposed definition will win out over and above those that wish to define it more loosely.

Based on my experience with systems, an appropriate definition of the term as “the text from which the extant tradition originates” (93) is much more precise and descriptive of what the method is capable of achieving. Any talk of whether or not the Initial Text represents the Original Text is merely speculation at this point, and I argue will remain speculation when the effort is complete. This of course requires a more humble assessment of the capabilities of the CBGM, in that an empirical method is only good for analysis on that which it has is its possession. Which is to say that methodologically speaking, there is still a gray area between the time that the earliest extant manuscripts are dated and the time that the original manuscripts were penned of about 300 years or more, depending on how early one dates the earliest complete manuscripts. This is what I have been calling the “Gray area between the authorial and initial text” or “The Gray Area” for short. Dr. Gurry has defined it as the historical gap (100). I suspect that this gray area will be the focus of all discussion pertaining to the actual value of the ECM by the time 2032 arrives.

The Gray Area Between the Authorial and Initial Text

Any critique of the CBGM is incomplete without a sincere handling of the Gray Area between the Original and Initial Text. Until that conversation has happened, it is rather preemptive to make any conclusions such as, “The CBGM can get us to about 125AD”. Dr. Gurry writes, “The reason is that there is a methodological gap between the start of the textual tradition as we have it and the text of the autograph itself. Any developments between these two points are outside the remit of textual criticism proper. Where there is “no trace [of the original text] in the manuscript tradition” the text critic must, on Mink’s terms, remain silent” (93).

This is understandably a weakness of the methodology itself, if one expects the methodology to produce a meaningful text. Dr. Gurry continues, “Minks statement that the initial text “should not necessarily be equated with any actual historical reality” is best read as a way to underscore this point” (93). I propose that it is of greatest importance that Christians begin discussing the Gray Area between the Original Text and the Initial Text now, as it outside of the interest of the text-critic proper. Yes, this discussion is most certainly a theological one, as much as that might pain some who have buried their heads in the sand to the weaknesses of the CBGM care to admit.

It is important to note, that in this conversation over the methodology of the CBGM, that there is certainly not uniform agreement on the capabilities of this relatively new method. It is my hope that by bringing this discussion into a more public space, that the terminology of Original and Initial Text, and the space between these two points in the transmission of the New Testament, fosters an important conversation as it pertains to the orthodox doctrinal standards of inspiration and preservation. Dr. Gerd Mink indirectly proposes one possible method of analyzing the Gray Area, which would be to demonstrate that there is a significant break between the Original and Initial Text. Perhaps some ambitious doctoral student might take upon himself to conduct this work, though I wonder if it is even possible to analyze data that does not exist. That is to say that determining the quality and authenticity of the Initial Text might as well be impossible, and any conclusions regarding this text will be assumptive, given that some new component is not added to the CBGM which allows such analysis to be done.

The ontological limitations of the CBGM give cause for the discerning onlooker to side with the assessments of DC Parker and Eldon J. Epp. Dr. Epp writes, “Many of us would feel that Initial Text – if inadequately defined and therefore open to be understood as the First Text or Starting Text in an absolute sense – suggests greater certainty than our knowledge of transmission warrants”(Epp, Which Text?, 70). Until those that have a more optimistic understanding of the Initial Text produce a methodology that is adequate in testing the veracity of the Initial Text, I see no reason why anybody should blindly trust that the Initial Text can be said to be same as the Original Text. And that is assuming that the ECM will reveal one Ausgangstext. It is likely, if not inevitable, that multiple initial texts will burst forth from the machine. A general understanding of the quality of the earliest extant texts certainly warrants such a thought, at least.


The purpose of this article is to 1) make a wider audience aware of the difference between the Initial Text and the Original Text and 2) to begin the conversation of the Gray Area between the Initial Text and the Original Text. It is best that the church begins discussing this now, rather than in 13 years when the ECM is completed. There are many Christians out there who may be caught completely off guard when they discover that the somewhat spurious claim that the CBGM has “gotten us to 125AD” is in fact, not the truth. The fact stands that nobody has the capability of making such a precise claim at this point, and will not be able to make such a claim in 2032 either. It is best then, that people allow the scholars to finish the work prior to making claims that the scholars themselves are still in dialogue about.