Why the Doctrine of Inerrancy Demands the Defense of the Received Text

Introduction

On this blog, I have highlighted many of the doctrinal errors underpinning the modern critical text, as well as set forth positively the historical orthodox position on the Holy Scriptures. I have been critical of the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated by modern scholars and compared it to the historical doctrine of providential preservation, demonstrating how they are different. That is not to say that the doctrine of inerrancy is completely bad, though it has a critical flaw which I highlight in the linked article above. For those that do not have the time to read the above article, the essential flaw is that it founds the “great accuracy” of the text of Holy Scripture on modern text critical methods and thus allows for a changing text. In this article, I will demonstrate why the current articulation of inerrancy undercuts any meaningful arguments against the Received Text.

Inerrancy vs. Providential Preservation

If a proponent of the modern critical text adheres to the doctrine of inerrancy, as opposed to the historical definition of providential preservation as stated in WCF 1.8, they have no grounds for attacking the Received Text. I am defining inerrancy as the doctrine which teaches that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were without error, and that those originals have been preserved in all that they teach in the extant copies. This is in opposition to providential preservation,which teaches that in every age, the Holy Scriptures have been kept pure essentially in what they teach and also preserved in the words from which those teachings are derived. If one limits the doctrine of inerrancy to only the autographs, then the defense of the Scriptures is pointless, because we don’t have the originals. So, if it is the case, as the doctrine of inerrancy teaches, that the Scriptures are without error in all that they teach while the words of the material text are changing, then it must also be said that the material text of the Scriptures can change and be inerrant, so as long as they can be said to teach the same doctrines. If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. That, or neither are inerrant. 

Since, according to the modern critical perspective, the Reformation era text teaches the same doctrines as the Critical Text, then according to the modern doctrinal formulation of inerrancy, the Reformation era text must be inerrant too.

If, then, the Reformation Era text teaches the same doctrines and is therefore inerrant, advocates of the modern critical text have no argument against it from a theological perspective. This is the logical end of the claim that “no doctrine is affected.” If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. This is an important observation, because it means that opponents of the Received Text have no theological warrant to attack the text of the Reformation, seeing as it is an inerrant text. Until they say, “There is a final text, this is it, and it teaches different doctrine,” not only is it inconsistent to attack the Received Text, it is hostile to the text of Holy Scripture, by their own doctrinal standard. It stands against reason that a modern critical text proponent would attack a text, which is, by their own admission, inerrant. 

 In order to responsibly attack the Received Text from a modern critical vantage point, one must admit and adopt several things:

  1. They must admit that doctrine is affected between texts.
  2. They must adopt a final text to have a stable point of comparison between texts. 
  3. They must assert that the Received Text is not inerrant, and thus not Scripture.

This of course, is impossible for a modern critical text advocate, since the modern critical text is changing, and will continue to change. Since, according to the modern doctrinal standard of inerrancy, the Bible is without error in all that it teaches, any Bible that is without error in all that it teaches should be considered inerrant and actually defended as such. If, at the same time, a proponent of the modern doctrine of the modern critical text and inerrancy wishes to add a component of providence to the equation, then they necessarily have to defend the Received Text. If providence is considered, there is no change to Holy Scripture, based on text critical principles, that can affect the teaching of the Scriptures. Consequently, if one were to argue that changes to the printed texts of Holy Scripture can affect doctrine, preaching, and theology, then the doctrine of inerrancy must be rejected outright, as the previous iterations of that text would have contained doctrines that were improved upon, and thus erred, prior to those changes. If a change, introduced by text critical methods, changes doctrine, then the Critical Text cannot be inerrant. This presents a theological challenge to those who continue to advocate against the Received Text and also wish to uphold the inerrancy of a changing modern critical text. There are two necessary conclusions that must be drawn from this reality:

  1. Either the Scriptures are inerrant, and text-critical changes cannot affect doctrine, and thus the Received Text is inerrant along with the modern critical text,
  2. Or the Scriptures are not inerrant, as the changes introduced by new modern text critical methods will change doctrine. 

The necessary conclusion of maintaining that the words of Scriptures have changed and will change and that they are also inerrant is that those material changes must not affect doctrine. If it is the case that these changes will affect doctrine, then the Bible is necessarily not inerrant and the conversation is now far outside the realm of even modern orthodoxy. 

Conclusion

The question we should all be asking is this: If no doctrine is affected between the Received Text and the modern critical text and the Bible is inerrant, why do modern critical text advocates attack an inerrant Bible? Is it consistent to affirm the modern doctrine of inerrancy and also attack the historical Protestant Scriptures? It seems that the answer is no, it is not consistent. One might argue that the modern critical text is “better,” but better in what way? If no doctrine is affected, how is it better? In order to make the argument for a “better” text, one has to first argue that doctrine is indeed changed in the new critical Bibles, and thus admit that the Scriptures are not inerrant. And even if one were to admit that the modern critical text is better, and admit that the Bible is not inerrant, they would need to produce a standard, stable text to defend that claim. So, until the advocates of the modern critical text are willing to admit that doctrine is changed and thus the Scriptures are not inerrant, they simply are attacking the Received Text, which by their own doctrinal standard, is inerrant. 

This article should demonstrate one of the chief inconsistencies of those who uphold inerrancy of Scripture and also attack the Received Text of the Reformation. It seems, based on the axiom that “no doctrine is affected,” there actually is no warrant to attack a version of the Scriptures that is inerrant. In order to do so, one would have to adopt the view that the Scriptures have been kept pure in both what they teach and the words that teach those doctrines, and then defend a finished text. And if it is the case that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages, and is providentially preserved, then it stands that adopting a critical text which differs from the text of the previous era of the church is not justified in the first place and incompatible with the argument.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of the modern critical text advocates joining the fight to defend the inerrant Received Text!

Six Reasons Why I Do Not Want a Revised KJV

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Providential Preservation and the Modern Critical Texts

Introduction

There are many cases that I have seen where somebody who advocates for the modern critical text uses the theological language, “Providential Preservation.” This is typically due to the person not understanding the current state of modern textual criticism. There have been many developments that have been adopted in the mainstream of textual scholarship that disallow this language from being used responsibly. This problem demonstrates a major fork in the road for those in the confessionally Reformed camp because the confession teaches that the Word of God has been “kept pure in all ages” by God’s “singular care and providence.” This is problematic because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not recognize providence, inspiration, or the Holy Spirit. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism assume that the manuscript evidence is no different than any other work of antiquity. Evangelical textual scholars may personally believe that the text has been preserved, but there is nothing in the axioms of their method that even come close to incorporating these truths about Scripture. That means that the modern critical texts have readings that stand against the theological reality that God has preserved His Word providentially. In other words, the modern critical texts have readings that are unique to a smattering of manuscripts, often times just one or two manuscripts, that were rejected by the church through the ages. These readings were rejected by way of fixing them as the manuscripts were copied en masse, excluded from printed editions after the printing press, or directly condemned as corruptions in theological commentary on these readings. 

This is due to the modern critical texts being derived from various textual theories that do not assume a supernatural preservation process, or consider the Holy Spirit speaking to His church in time. The readings used for hundreds of years by the people of God can be wrong, because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not consider the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, or inspiration, or infallibility, or even inerrancy for that matter. These readings are now adopted, not because of providence, but because of textual theories and mythology that overvalue certain manuscripts of suspect origin and low quality. What Christians need to understand, is that these textual theories in some cases have been utterly refuted (like Hort’s theory on Vaticanus), and others (like genealogical models and the initial text), are unproven at best and a fool’s errand at worst. The reality is, if a textual methodology is based on the assumption that the extant manuscripts formerly called the “Alexandrian Family” are standing in any sort of mainstream textual tradition of the church, that textual methodology is flawed and not based on providence. Further, any textual methodology that assumes a reconstruction of the text needs to be done is not based on providence. 

Controversy Surrounding the Continued Use of the Term “Providence”

The Reformed church cannot escape the doctrine of Scripture as set forth in the Puritan era confessions. The language used was written carefully and precisely. This makes reinterpretations of the confessions difficult, though in the case of the modern doctrine of Scripture, this has been done. Fortunately, the authors of the 17th century Puritan confessions were so precise, that this sort of reinterpretation is near impossible without adding new terms and definitions, like inerrancy. What the church needs to know is that the text-critical context of Warfield is much different than the text critical context of today. What Warfield said about Scripture in the 19th and 20th century is out of its scope now, and can no longer be responsibly applied to the current state of affairs in modern textual criticism. The conversation has clearly evolved, and in Warfield’s day, terms like “the original” meant something completely different than they do today. Even doctrinal statements like the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy is outdated due to the introduction of new terms and evolution of old terms. That means that theologians, scholars, and pastors can employ terms like providence, inerrancy, and infallibility while operating on stale definitions and be none the wiser. The problem with this is that somebody can make the same statement regarding Scripture as Warfield or even R.C. Sproul, and that statement will mean something entirely different than it did in their context.

During Warfield’s time, the term “original” was clear. It meant the autographic text. This definition continued to be employed in this way until very recently within the bounds of textual scholarship. The effort of modern textual criticism was geared towards reconstructing this original, and so while the same problems still existed within modern critical methods, it was still based on clear, definite terms. Due to the introduction of the “Initial Text,” the doctrinal formulations of the 20th century are plainly outdated. The reason for this is due to the fact that the Initial Text is not the same, by definition, as the original text or autographs. If we define this conservatively, it is the earliest text within the extant manuscript tradition. If we define this less conservatively, it is a hypothetical text that represents no extant manuscripts from which all manuscripts are derived. The latter definition of the Initial Text is often equated with the “original” text by optimistic scholars, but this is clearly on overreach. The axioms which are producing the Initial Text simply cannot speak to whether it is equitous with the original or autographic text. In short, the effort to find the original text as it has been defined historically has been abandoned. The modern critical methods simply cannot reach back farther than the evidence allows. 

This article is not about the efficacy of genealogical text-critical methods, however, it is about providence. The very use of the term “Initial Text” demonstrates that the modern critical methodologies are not compatible with providence. The need for scholars to shift the goal post from “original” to “initial” demonstrates the vacuous nature of modern text-critical methods. They have not produced the original with text-critical methods because they cannot produce the original with text-critical methods. Since the only way to say that modern textual criticism can produce an original is to first introduce new terms which redefine what “original” means, it should abundantly clear that we are standing on different theological grounds than Warfield and even R.C. Sproul. If they were alive today, they may have agreed with the introduction of such terms, but the fact is, they are not around to reevaluate their doctrinal statements according to these developments. What this practically means is that the doctrinal statements developed in the 20th century are inadequate to speak to the texts that are being produced by modern critical methods as they have developed in the last 10 years. They are stale. This being the case, it is irresponsible to continue using historical protestant language which were formulated upon different definitions. In the light of new developments, these doctrinal statements simply do not mean the same thing any longer. There is a need for those in the modern critical text camp to draft new doctrinal statements, because the old simply do not apply to the developments of their discipline. Interestingly enough, the doctrinal statements that have been produced in the recent literature simply articulate that “God didn’t desire us to have the whole thing.”  

The Modern Critical Text is Not a Providential Text and is Not Justified for Use by the Church

The WCF and LBCF both appeal to God’s providence and apply it to the original texts of Holy Scripture in Greek and Hebrew, stating that they have been “kept pure in all ages.” If a text has been kept pure, it has been kept in such a state that it does not need to be reconstructed. This was the belief of the majority of the Protestant church until the end of the 19th century and even into the 20th century by many. So in order to appeal to providence while talking about the Holy Scriptures, one has to believe that the text has been “kept pure” by providence. That does not mean that one manuscript came down pure through the line of textual transmission. It means that the original text of Holy Scripture came down and was used in faithful churches “in all ages.” In order to recognize providence in this process, one must recognize that this preservation took place in time, by people who used these manuscripts.  

In order to recognize providence as a function of preservation, one has to first believe that despite corruptions entering into manuscripts early on in transmission, the original text maintained its purity through the whole of the textual transmission process. That means that no local corruption could contaminate the transmission process as a whole “in all ages.” We should not be so ignorant to believe that there were no corrupt manuscripts created during this process. The quotations of Augustine and Jerome and other theologians of the church prove as much. If God truly preserved His Word, then all transmission narratives must be within the walls of God’s providential hand guiding the process, and the corruptions of “unfaithful men” should be recognized as corruptions, not adopted into the history of textual transmission.

Secondly, in order to recognize God’s providence in transmission, one has to believe that historical events are a function of that providence. Just like God did not use evolution to create man, he did not use an evolutionary process to create His Word. The text did not develop, it was “kept.” Just like mutations arise in creatures over time, mutations arose in the Biblical manuscripts. Just because mutations occur in humans, that does not mean that those mutations arise in all humans. That means that by the time the printing press was introduced into Europe, the textual tradition was still being “kept pure” by God’s providence, and by God’s providence, that technological innovation allowed the church to collect, compare, and print texts which by God’s providence, had been “kept pure.” A survey of commentary on this Reformation effort reveals a lively discussion about the various printed texts during this time, and the readings they did and did not contain. It was not an effort of one man in a closet, despite what some would have you believe. 

That does not mean that the first editions printed represented that text which had been “kept pure.” It was a process, and by God’s providence, it was a process that occurred in a place where the height of language learning was taking also happening. The humanist renaissance sparked a revival of language learning and a return to studying the original Biblical texts and ancient fathers of the church. Many of the Reformers were humanists, such as Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and Calvin. Erasmus, “the smartest man alive,” though not theologically in line with the Reformers, was one of the chief satirists and polemicists against the papacy and one of the most brilliant language scholars alive. There has never been, even to this day, a time where so many scholars, with such an in depth knowledge of Biblical  languages, were in the same place at the same time. Never was there a time in history where the church was so united in pursuing the same cause. Never was there a time in history where the effort of creating an edited Greek text was so pure and theologically united. Never will there be another time in history where the church had the perspective on the manuscripts available, because those manuscripts were still being used in churches. If that is not providential, I dare say that nothing is providential. 

Conclusion

The point is this – if one wants to argue that a text is providential, they must argue for the text that was produced providentially, and completed and used in time. The modern critical text is produced with axioms that scorn God’s providence. These axioms say that the only thing God has providentially done in time is let the Scriptures evolve from their original form, and then let the people of God believe that those evolved Scriptures were the true Biblical text. These axioms are the same that say with confidence that the Reformation text is wrong, but also cannot produce the original text, even with all of the “new and better” data. In fact, these axioms are so ineffective that a new term had to be derived, the “Initial Text,” because these axioms say that the original is so far from being providentially preserved that we simply will never have it. According to the axioms of modern textual criticism, “we simply do not have now what the prophets and apostles wrote, and even if we did, we would not know it.” The question for those that still wish to maintain the doctrine of providential preservation is this: Why are we trusting scholars when they say the Reformation text is not original, when they can’t even determine if their own text is original? Would you trust a mechanic who had never fixed a car? Would you trust a surgeon who had never successfully done surgery? Why are we trusting scholars who say that we cannot know what the New Testament originally said to produce Bibles for the church? 

It is time that Christians stop giving lip service to providential preservation, and actually consider what those words mean together. Providential preservation does not mean that “the Bible has been preserved, it’s just been lost.” The text of the church was not preserved in a barrel or a questionable monastery or the Vatican or the sand – it was preserved by churches that actually used that text “in all ages.” It does not mean that God has ordained a wild goose chase for the last 150 years to recover a lost text. The continued effort of reconstructing the Bible is simply not warranted, if we want to continue using the words “providential” and “preservation” together. Those two words, when put together, mean that God actually preserved the text in time. It is attainable, and we have it. Modern critical textual methods do not consider what God has done in time, because they reject the text that was actually used by the people of God in time. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism say the opposite, that the text used in time by the people of God is in error. In other words, they reject providence altogether because they say that all providence has produced is an evolved text. We have to go back and find the original Bible because it has been providentially corrupted. The modern critical text is not justified for use among the people of God for this reason. It is a text foreign to the church in time, and it is produced by axioms that say that “we do not have, and never will have, the text.” 

Inspiration: Now and Then

Introduction

Today’s church has been flooded with new ideas that depart from the old paths of the Protestant Reformation. This is especially true when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture. It is common place to adhere to the doctrine of inerrancy in today’s conservative circles and beyond. While it is good that many Christians take some sort of stand on Scripture, it is important to investigate whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy is a Protestant doctrine. The Reformers were adamant when talking about the inspiration, authority, and preservation of Scripture that every last word had been kept pure and should be used for doctrine, preaching, and practice. James Ussher says clearly the common sentiment of the Reformed.

“The marvelous preservation of the Scriptures; though none in time be so ancient, nor none so much oppugned, yet God hath still by his providence preserved them, and every part of them.”

(James Ussher, A Body of Divinity)

Most Christians would happily affirm this doctrinal statement. Those that are more familiar with the discussion of textual criticism may not, however. It is common to dismiss men like James Ussher along with other Westminster Divines on the grounds that they were not aware of all of the textual data and therefore were speaking from ignorance. Much to the discomfort of these Christians, textual variants did exist during this time, many of which were the same we battle over today. The conclusion that should be drawn from this reality is not that the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries would have agreed with modern expressions of inspiration and preservation simply because we have “more data”. There is a careful nuance to be observed, and that nuance is in their actual doctrinal articulations of Scripture. This is necessarily the case, considering they were far more aware of textual variants than many would like to admit. Rather than attempting to understand the tension between the Reformed doctrine of Scripture and the existence of textual variants, it is commonplace to reinterpret the past through the lens of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, who reinterpreted the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 to make room for new trends in textual scholarship. William T. Shedd, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in  the 19th century and premier systematic theologian articulated the view of Hodge and Warfield well regarding the confessional statement, “Kept pure in all ages”.  He writes,

“This latter process is not supernatural and preclusive of all error, but providential and natural and allowing of some error. But this substantial reproduction, this relative ‘purity’ of the original text as copied, is sufficient for the Divine purposes in carrying forward the work of redemption in the world” . 

William G. T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed. A Defense of the Westminster Standards, 142.

While this is close to the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries at face value, it still is a departure that ends up being quite significant, especially in light of the direction modern textual criticism has taken in the last ten years. For comparison, Francis Turretin articulates a similar thought in a different way.



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

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

It is plainly evident that the two articulations of the same concept are not exactly the same. That is to say, that Turretin’s expression of the doctrine was slightly more conservative than Shedd. The difference being that the apographs, as Turretin understood them, were materially as perfect as the Divine Original. Turretin dealt at length with textual corruptions, as did his peers and those that followed after him, such as Puritan Divine John Owen, and still affirmed that the “very words” were available to the church. In order to fit a modern view into the Reformation and Post Reformation theologians, one must anachronistically impose a Warfieldian interpretation of the Westminster Confession onto those that framed it. There is no doubt that the Westminster Divines lived in the same reality of textual variants as Warfield and Hodge, and that they still affirmed a doctrine which said every jot and tittle had been preserved. Turretin and Warfield faced the same dilemma, yet Warfield secluded inspiration to only the autographs, whereas the Reformed included the apographs as well. Rather than attempting to reinterpret the theologians of the past, the goal should be to understand their doctrine as it existed during the 16th and 17th centuries, where the conversation of textual variants was just as alive as it is today.

A Careful Nuance

In order to examine the difference between the doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to today, it’s important to zoom out and see how Warfield’s doctrine developed into the 21st century. The Doctrine of Inspiration, as it is articulated today, only extends to the autographic writings of the New Testament. I will appeal to David Naselli’s explanation from his textbook, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament, which has received high praise from nearly every major seminary. 

“The Bible’s inerrancy does not mean that copies of the original writings or translations of those copies are inerrant. Copies and translations are inerrant only to the extent that they accurately represent the original writings.” 

David Naseli. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. 43.

This statement is generally agreeable, if we assume that there is a stable Bible in hand, and a stable set of manuscripts or a printed edition which is viewed as “original.” Unfortunately, neither of these exist in the world of the modern critical text. Not only do we not have the original manuscripts, there is no finished product that could be compared to the original. Since the effort of reconstructing the Initial Text is still ongoing, and since we do not have the original manuscripts, this doctrinal statement made by Naselli does not articulate a meaningful doctrine of inspiration or preservation. In stating what appears to be a solid doctrinal statement, he has said nothing at all. In order for this doctrine to have significant meaning, a text that “represents the original writings” would need to be produced. That is why the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries were so adamant about their confidence in having the original in hand. In order for any doctrine of Scripture to make sense, the Scriptures could not have fallen away after the originals were destroyed or lost. Doctrinally speaking, the articulation of the doctrine of Scripture demonstrated by Turretin and his contemporaries is necessary because it affirms that God providentially preserved the Scriptures in time and that they had access to those very Scriptures. If the modern critical text claimed to be a definitive text, like the Reformed claimed to have, the modern articulation of the doctrine of Scripture might be sound, but there is no modern critical text that exists as a solid ands table object. It is clear that the doctrine of Scripture, and the form of the Scriptures, cannot be separated or the meaning of that doctrine is lost. In order for doctrine to be built on a text, the text must be static. If we are to say that the Bible is inerrant in so far as it represents the original, there must be a 1) a stable text and 2) an original to compare that text against. Due to neither 1 or 2 being true, Naselli, along with everybody that agrees with him, have effectively set forth a meaningless doctrinal standard as it pertains to Scripture.  

This means that the Reformed doctrine of Scripture is intimately tied to the text they considered to be authentic, inspired, and representative of the Divine Original. The text they had in hand was what is now called the Received Text. Whether it was simply a “default” text does not change the reality that it was the text these men of God had in their hands. It is abundantly clear that the doctrine of Scripture during the time of the Reformation and Post-Reformation was built on the TR, just like the modern doctrine of Scripture is built on the modern critical text and the assumptions used to create it. Further problems arise with the modern doctrine of Scripture when the effort of textual scholarship shifted from trying to find the original text to the initial text. Due to this shift, any articulation of Scripture which looks to the modern critical text is based on a concept that does not necessarily exist in modern textual scholarship. The concept of the “original” has moved from the sight of the editorial teams of Greek New Testaments, therefore it is necessary to conclude that such doctrinal statements which rely on outdated goals to find the “original” must also be redefined. What this means practically is that there are not any doctrinal statements that exist in the modern church which align with the doctrines used to produce modern Bibles.

Due to the doctrine of Scripture being intimately tied to the nature of the text it is describing, the various passages of the New Testament which have been considered inspired have changed throughout time, and are going to continue changing as the conclusions of scholars vary from year to year. If we take Naselli’s articulation of the doctrine of Scripture as true, this means that there is not one inerrant text of Holy Scripture, there are as many as there are Christians that read their Bible. So in a very real sense, according to the modern articulation of inspiration, the inspired text of the New Testament is not a stable rule of faith. It is only stable relative to crowd consensus, or perhaps at the individual level. A countless multitude of people who adhere to this doctrine of inspiration make individual rulings on Scripture, which effectively means that the Bible is given its authority by virtue of the person making those decisions. Thus, the number of Bibles which may be considered “original” is as numerous as the amount of people reading Bibles. It is due to this reality that the modern doctrine of Scripture has departed from the Reformation era doctrine in at least two ways. The first is that by “original”, the post-Warfield doctrine means the autographs which no longer exist and excludes the apographs. The second is that the Bible is only authoritative insofar as it has been judged authoritative by some standard or another. This combination contradicts any doctrine that would have the Scriptures be a stable rule for faith and practice. It is because of these differences that it can be safely said that while the doctrinal articulations may sound similar, they are not remotely the same.  

The Reformed doctrine of Scripture in the 16th and 17th centuries is founded upon two principles that are different than that in the post-Warfield era. The first principle of the Reformed is that the Scriptures are self-authenticating, and the second is that they considered the original to also be represented and preserved in the text they had in hand. Therefore it seems necessary to understand the Reformation and Post-Reformation Divines through a different lens than the modern perspective, because the two camps are saying entirely different things. A greater effort should be made to understand what exactly the Reformed meant by “Every word and letter” in relationship to the text they had in hand, rather than impose the modern doctrine upon the Reformation and Post-Reformation divines.   

Conclusion

The goal of this conversation should be to instill confidence in people that the Bible they are reading is indeed God’s inspired Word. Often times it is more about winning debates and being right than actually given confidence to Christians that what they have in their hands can be trusted. It is counter productive for Christians to continue to fight over textual variants in the way that they do, especially considering the paper thin modern articulations of the doctrine of Scripture. It is stated by some that receiving the Reformation Era Bible is “dangerous”, yet I think what is more dangerous is to convince somebody that they should not trust this Bible, which is exactly what happens when somebody takes the time to actually explain the nuances of modern textual criticism. These attacks are especially harmful when the Bible that is attacked is the one that the Protestant religion was founded upon, and the only text that carries with it a meaningful doctrine of Scripture. Christians need to consider very carefully the claims that are made about the Reformation era text which say it is not God’s Word, or that it is even dangerous to use. I cannot emphasize enough the harm this argument has done  to the Christian religion as a whole. The constant effort to “disprove” the Reformation era text is a strange effort indeed, especially if “no doctrines are effected”. The alternative, which has been a work in progress since before 1881, and is still a work in progress today, offers no assurance that Christians are actually reading the Bible. In making the case that the Received text and translations made from it should not be used, critics have taken one Bible away and replaced it with nothing but uncertainty.  

The claim made by advocates of the Received text is simple, and certainly not dangerous. The manuscripts that the Reformed had in the 16th century were as they claimed – of great antiquity and highest quality. The work done in that time resulted in a finished product, which continued to be used for hundreds of years after. That Bible in its various translations quite literally changed the world. If the Bible of the 16-18th centuries is so bad, I cannot understand why people who believe it to be a gross corruption of God’s Word still continue to read the theological works of those who used it. Further, it is difficult to comprehend how a Bible that is said to accomplish the same purpose as modern bibles would be so viscously attacked by those that oppose it. If all solid translations accomplish the same redemptive purpose, according to the modern critical doctrine, why would it make any sense to attack it? After spending 10 years reading modern Bibles, I simply do not see the validity to the claim that the Reformation era text is “dangerous” in any way. Christians do not need to “beware” of the text used by the beloved theologians of the past. At the end of the day, I think it is profitable for Christians to know that traditional Bibles are not scary, and have been used for centuries to produce the fullest expression of Christian doctrine in the history of the world. When the two doctrinal positions are compared, there is not a strong appeal to the axioms of Westcott and Hort, or Metzger, or even the CBGM. They are all founded on the vacuous doctrine of Scripture which requires that the current text be validated against the original, which cannot be done. There is no theological or practical value in constantly changing the words printed in our Bibles, and this practice is in fact detrimental to any meaningful articulation of what Scripture is. I have not once talked to anybody who has been given more confidence in the Word of God by this practice. In fact, the opposite is true in every real life encounter I’ve had.

It is said that the Received Text position is “pious” and “sanctimonious”, but I just don’t see how a changing Bible, with changing doctrines, is even something that a conservative Christian would seriously consider. If Christians desire a meaningful doctrine of Scripture, the modern critical text and its axioms are incapable of producing it.