Modern Critical Text Advocates Cannot Say Anything About Originality or Authenticity


There are a number of ways the textual criticism discussion goes awry. Sometimes the conversation is hyper focused on textual variants and “textual data,” other times the topic of discussion is Erasmus or the Reformed. What is almost always ignored is what the Scriptures say. There is a reason the Critical Text advocates do not ever wish to talk about theology, and it is because the theology of the modern critical text system is completely bankrupt. It has strayed so far from Protestant orthodoxy that it shares similarities with Rome.

In this article, I will discuss why the Critical Text Advocate cannot justifiably debate variants in relation to the Divine Original.

The Methodological Gap

The Modern Critical Text methodology, which is allegedly the only “meaningful” and “consistent” apologetic, has what the scholars call a “methodological gap.”

“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.” 

Peter Gurry. A Critical Examination of the Coherence based Genealogical Method. 93.

“There still remains a gap between the form of the text from which we conclude by critical examination that the extant witnesses must be descended and the yet older forms from which that oldest recoverable text must be descended…Recognizing that there is a gap between the oldest recoverable forms of the text and the creation of the work requires us to address one final topic…The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover the original authorial text, not only because we cannot at present know on philological grounds what the original text might have been, nor even because there may have been several forms of the tradition, but because philology is not able to make a pronouncement as to whether or not there was such an authorial text”  

(DC Parker. Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament. Kindle Edition. 26-27).

This means that the text critical methodologies employed by modern scholars and apologists cannot speak to the authenticity of any variant in relation to the original because modern textual criticism isn’t designed to deal with the concept of the original.

The scholars and apologists are quick to brag about the “scientific” nature of textual criticism, but in doing this, they give up the ground necessary to actually defend any singular textual variant as “authentic”, or the whole of Scripture for that matter. When such a methodological gap is recognized, so too is recognized the reality that this gap prevents advocates of the Modern Critical Text from speaking to the authorial text of Scripture based on the “textual data.” The textual data does is limited by the reality that there is nothing that connects the “earliest and most reliable manuscripts” with the autographic text. There is no way to verify that the reconstructed text is the original text, hence the methodological gap.

This is where the discussion of textual variants is extremely misleading and even deceitful. When Critical Text advocates make claims about the “authenticity” of a variant reading, they have stepped away from their “consistent methodology” to argue from a totally different epistemic starting point which assumes the concept of the Divine Original. As noted above by DC Parker, even the concept of one authorial tradition is not certain because of this methodological gap.

The concept of an “authorial” or “original” text is something that is theological in nature. It is something that is assumed a priori from Scripture. If the Scriptures were inspired by God(2 Tim. 3:16), there is one text that was inspired, and therefore Christians argue for one inspired text. This concept is not something that can be demonstrated from the textual data and is something that has been increasingly called into question in today’s world of textual scholarship.

“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament, despite its status as a uniquely transcendent, sacred text, held by some to be inspired by God…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meaning of texts also change…Paradoxically, attempts to edit and preserve these important books multiplies rather than settles the many forms in which they appear, as each generation revises both the New Testament and the Gospels in concert with its own aspirations, assumptions, theological perspectives, and available technologies.”

Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15-16.

The Bible, according to these so called “Evangelical” textual scholars, is nothing more than a human product which reflects the communities of faith that produced it.

The methodological gap is the death of defending the Scriptures for Christians. It is an admission that any conclusion that scholars and apologists arrive to cannot be said about the authenticity or originality of any given verse or word in Scripture.


Think about this methodological gap the next time you engage with a Modern Critical Text advocate. They will vigorously debate passages such as Mark 16:9-20 and 1 John 5:7, despite the fact that they have no “consistent” reason to do so. What they actually can debate is whether or not those verses or passages should be printed in our Modern Critical Texts, but that’s it. The nature of this modern text has no credentials, no progeny. All that we know about these manuscripts is that they were created, and that a small number of them survived. We have no clue who created them or used them or if they were even a part of the manuscripts used by actual Christians. The methodological gap proves that modern critical text advocates have surrendered the ground necessary to defend any place of Scripture as authentic. It is simply inconsistent to do so, because the methodological and axiomatic foundation of the Modern Critical Text has nothing to say about the original, let alone if there ever was one original.

When a Critical Text advocate tries to argue for authenticity, they are borrowing a concept that does not exist in their system from another system, one that is theological. They borrow from a system that asserts the concept of an original from Scripture, which some would call an “a priori” assumption. This a priori assumption is one which is not consistent with the modern critical methodology. As some popular apologists point out, this is the sign of a failed argument. It proves that if the point of the discussion is the Divine Original, the Modern Critical Text advocate has no consistent reason to contribute. While the goal of some Evangelical textual scholars may be the original, there is certainly nothing in the methodology that can actually make that happen.

That is why those in the Received Text camp say that there are no modern critical textual scholars trying to find the original, because a desire to find the original doesn’t and cannot actually translate to anything tangible due to the methodological gap. Instead of rejecting the Modern Critical Text, scholars instead say, “No doctrines are affected” and hope that Christians don’t think too hard about it. It is a failed system if the goal is the Divine Original, and scholars know it. So when a Modern Critical Text advocate tries to say that a passage or verse is not original, the simple response is, “What does your system have anything to do with the original?” They cannot argue such claims from their system, and that is the brutal reality that Modern Critical Text advocates continue to ignore.

If the Text-Critics Went to Lunch and Didn’t Come Back


An important practice in the business world is determining the viability and impact of a project before investing resources into that project. It seems this is a wise analysis to consider for evangelical text-criticism.

 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Lk 14:28–30.

Christians should now act like wise investors. The church has been patient, but it is time to analyze the project afresh. The evangelical text-critics have determined that while we will never have the original text God inspired, what we have is close enough. A valuable analytical process is to determine the impact of ending an ongoing project. According to the careful analysis and hard work of the evangelical textual scholars, the church has all it needs from the manuscripts to get by. No doctrine has been affected in nearly 200 years of textual criticism, the church has what it needs. So what is the impact on the church, if all of the text-critics went out for lunch and never went back to work?

Seven Benefits to Ending the Effort of Modern Evangelical Text-Criticism

First, Greek Bibles would stop changing. No new additions or subtractions would be made to God’s Word. The only changes to God’s Word would have to be made by translation committees. 

Second, the text of the modern Bibles would be stable. Christians could buy a translation and keep it their whole lives without it expiring. 

Third, the work of men like Bart Ehrman would be irrelevant to the church, because Evangelical scholars wouldn’t be working with him and for him and under him any longer.  

Fourth, Christian textual scholars could spend more time doing exegesis for the church and pastoring, rather than scraping through manuscripts and counting words. Many of these men have a Masters of Divinity from well reputed seminaries, they could apply their education to shepherding the flock. 

Fifth, seminaries could remove Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman’s textbook from the standard curriculum. We have what we need in our Greek texts, there is no need to continue giving Erhman a platform. 

Sixth, the heroic apologists of the Christian faith could spend more time defending the teachings of the Word of God, rather than trying to discover what it says. 

Seventh, resources spent on text-criticism could go to planting churches, supporting struggling churches, and training pastors. 


 If the best and the brightest text critics say that they haven’t found the original text in a time where we have “the best data,” and have determined that “we have what we need,” there is no point in carrying on. “No doctrine has been affected,” so it seems the church is equipped to press on. The church does not need to support a project that has already made the necessary conclusions. Instead, it should support those evangelical textual scholars in putting their MDivs to use pastoring churches and feeding God’s people. Let the secular academy continue their quest for the “historical Jesus” and free up the men of God to do work for the Kingdom! 

A good question to answer to determine the impact of ending such a project is, “What would happen if evangelicals stopped making Greek New Testaments?” The answer is nothing. Nothing would happen. The church would carry on without a hiccup. Pastors would preach, seminaries would train, and the Gospel would still go forth to all the nations. The average Christian would be none the wiser. The Bible has been preserved after all, no need to keep working on a finished product. 

Providential Preservation and the Modern Critical Texts


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. 


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.” 

Substantial Preservation and the Sin of Certainty


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

Substantial Preservation is Not Demonstrable by Evidence

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

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

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

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

Substantial Preservation is Not Practical 

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

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

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

Substantial Preservation is Not Scriptural

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Scripture is a Scripture, No Matter How Small


Many Christians have had trouble understanding what is meant by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith when they say that the Old Testament in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek have been “kept pure in all ages” (1.8). It does not mean that the framers of the confessions did not know about textual variants, or that those in the Confessional Text camp believe that the Word of God was transmitted perfectly by one manuscript. What this means is that the doctrine of inspiration and preservation disallows for a total corruption of any one reading in the Holy Scriptures. Certain verses or words have not been “lost to time”. 

Doctrinal standards that do not affirm purity in the transmission history of the New Testament are a direct result of modern definitions of inspiration and preservation. This is a standard that is based on the opinions that scholars have of manuscripts rather than theological suppositions from the Holy Scriptures. Due to the heavy weight assigned to certain manuscripts localized to Egypt in the 3rd and 4th century, and the massive difference between those and the rest of the manuscript tradition, scholars have determined that the text has been corrupted and needs to be repaired. The Reformation era work was inaccurate because those scholars did not understand how valuable the Egyptian manuscripts are. As a result, the doctrine of preservation had to be revisited. Had the modern scholars simply consented to the opinions of Erasmus, John Owen, and Francis Turretin regarding the strange Egyptian manuscripts such as Codex Vaticanus, this shift may have never happened. 

Inspiration and Preservation

As a result of the reevaluation of Egyptian manuscripts as “earliest and best”, Christians had to separate the doctrine of inspiration from the doctrine of preservation. This is done implicitly by those who adhere to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy when they say that the text has been passed down with “great accuracy” as opposed to “pure in all ages”. Because the idiosyncratic text stream had been deemed as good as “original”, the text of the Reformation was declared unfit for duty. This is the difference between the Reformation view and the postmodern view on the doctrine of inspiration as it pertains to the transmission of the New Testament text. In the confessional view, the text of the New Testament was kept pure in every generation of copying, which is to say that the text was never fully corrupt across all of the authentic copies. There was never “two independent streams of text”. There is no doubt that people used the Egyptian manuscripts, but the use of those manuscripts seemed to be localized to one region for a brief period of time. Despite manuscripts having a multitude of copyist errors, and intentional corruption, the original text was always available and transmitted accurately by God’s “singular care and providence”. The postmodern view gave credence to the idea that the scholars of the Reformation simply got it wrong, and the Word of God fell out of use for nearly 1500 years. 

You might ask, “But what does this have to do with inspiration?” The disconnect between inspiration and preservation is a direct result in the reinterpretation of the Westminster Confession by A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Sure, the originals were inspired, but that does not mean that these originals were perfectly preserved, in the sense that every word is still intact. The Scriptures were transmitted with “great accuracy”, after all. Which is to say that to some arbitrary degree, the Scriptures have been mostly kept pure. Despite this attempt at redefinition, the Scriptural doctrine of inspiration disallows for this separation due to the covenant nature of the New Testament and its purpose. 

“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 KJV). 

In order to maintain a Scriptural understanding of inspiration, one must accept that all Scripture was inspired, and all Scripture is profitable for all matters of faith and practice. This means that there is no such thing as an inspired Scripture that is not profitable for this covenant purpose. This being the case, this disallows for the distinction between “important doctrines” and “not important doctrines” when it comes to inspiration. This is what is being said when people say that “all the important doctrines are preserved”. If all of the important doctrines have been preserved, then the Scriptures that God inspired are again placed under the microscope of men to be deemed fit for profitability to the people of God. So as long as the editors, contributors, and proponents of the approved modern text(s) determine that doctrine is not affected, the Warfieldian standard allows for continued tinkering. The text may be inspired in its originals, but it has not been kept pure in all ages, because the original form of the New Testament has never been attained. This is not the Scriptural standard. 

I am not saying that every doctrine is as important as the next. There are certain doctrines that Christians divide over, and others that they do not divide over. These distinctions are fine to make, unless we are talking about “important doctrines” within the bounds of inspiration. The framing of inspiration in terms of “all the important doctrines” has cleverly shifted the standard of authority for the Holy Scriptures. Rather than the inspired text being the authority, the authority now rests on men and women to determine which are the important doctrines. The Scriptures are no longer self-authenticating. They are self-authenticating insofar as they represent the important doctrines, or some other arbitrary standard of accuracy. 

The modern view of inspiration has allowed Christians to essentially believe that the only people who ever had God’s Word in the original, were the people who had access to the unaltered originals. By the time the first copy was made, the first corruption took place, and the people of God would never have anything more than a Bible that is “close enough” to the original. The people of God will never have the exact wording, but they will have the doctrines. Yet this is not the doctrine put forth in the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the text clearly says that all Scripture is given by inspiration, and that all Scripture is profitable. The Bible does not set the bar at verses that pertain to salvation, or some other arbitrary standard. The Scriptures do not put forth the postmodern views of inspiration, where all Scripture means “All the important doctrines”. 

The text of Holy Scripture does not say that inspiration applies to doctrines, it applies to the actual text. If the text is inspired, it has a use for God’s covenant people, even if not equally weighed. The weight of a doctrine does not disqualify it from being preserved. Thus, in order for 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to be true, the text that God inspired must also be kept pure, “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works”. If a Scripture has been inspired, it must be preserved as well, and not just in the ideas. 

This raises further questions regarding what exactly it means to have a “greatly accurate” Bible. Who gets to say what “great accuracy” means? What percentage of the Bible do we have? It could mean that the people of God have a 95% original Bible, or a 70% original Bible, or even worse. Using the modern text-critical standards, it is impossible to determine to what degree of accuracy a text represents the original. In order to do that, one would need to have the original as a point of comparison. As it stands, the standard of comparison is a cluster of 3rd and 4th century Egyptian manuscripts. So even stating that the Bible has been preserved to a great degree of accuracy is completely arbitrary and unverifiable using modern standards and methods. 


A common misunderstanding of the confessional language of “pure in all ages” is that it means that literally every manuscript has been preserved completely. This has never been the case, and was not the perspective of the framers of the confessions. They did not see the printed editions of the Greek New Testament as a mere representation of the manuscript tradition, they viewed it as the completed effort of collating the authentic copies. Which is why the framers of the confessions, and the theologians of the time, all accepted the Received Text of the Reformation period. 

It also does not mean that handwriting, text size, and document formatting has been preserved perfectly. The preservationist view set forth in the confessions is that the words have been kept pure across the authentic manuscripts. Every manuscript contains scribal errors, this does not affect the doctrinal statements of the Reformation and post-Reformation period because these errors are not so great that the original has not been available in every generation. These great men of old were not ignorant of variants, or even the readings that modernity has deemed “earliest and best”. 

Regardless of the position you take on the Text of Scripture, it should be one that comports with the testimony of Scripture itself. Do the Scriptures present a view that only the important doctrines have been preserved? Or do they say that all Scripture has been preserved? A Scripture is a Scripture, no matter how small. Rather than being swayed by the compelling evidential arguments of men, take the time to see if those arguments can withstand the weight of its own critiques. See if the methodology aligns with Scripture. Start theologically, and then examine the evidence. View the evidence in light of God’s Word, not the other way around. 

In Pursuit of the Divine Original


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

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

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

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

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

An Examination of the Majority Conservative View of Preservation

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

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

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

An Explanation for the Ongoing Pursuit of the Divine Original

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

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

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

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

The Necessity for a Theological Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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