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


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. 


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!

A Bit of Friendly Dialogue with Triablogue


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

16 Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A 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. 

Partial Preservation & The Confessional Text


To tell the history of the pericope adulterae is to tell the history of the Gospels, and vice versa. (To Cast the First Stone, Wasserman & Knust, 9).

The story of the woman caught in adultery is beloved by many Christians, non-canonical to others, and a fascinating story of transmission of the New Testament Text to scholars. There are even some who consider the story to belong in the Gospel of John despite believing that John did not write the story himself. The current scholarship on the Pericope Adulterae reveals a bigger picture on New Testament text critical studies than twelve verses that make up the story of the woman caught in adultery. This scholarship has in some cases, uncovered the ghost of Schleiermacher, and in other cases exposed the evolutionary perspective that scholars have of the New Testament text. In either case, the perspectives of these positions are by no means historical or orthodox, despite the best intentions of those engaging in the work. 

The Well Intentioned Theology of Partial Preservation

Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intentions (LBCF 16.1).

The best of intentions are utterly devoid of any value if the actions of those intentions are not submissive to the Word of God. It does not matter if those engaging in New Testament textual scholarship are nice or even dear brothers in the Lord, if the underlying perspective and work done is antithetical to Scriptural truths. The doctrinal statements of protestant Christianity have, until the modern period, been in agreement on the nature of the Holy Scriptures. They are self-authenticating, and God has preserved them in every age. Any theological position that allows for a total corruption of the text, such that the text of the Bible must be recovered or reconstructed, stands in opposition to the standards laid down by the great heroes of the protestant faith throughout the ages. 

There is a difference between collating the texts that have been received by the people of God in every generation and believing that the text has been lost to time and needs to be reconstructed. The textual scholars of the Reformation did not believe they were trying to find the potentially earliest form of the New Testament (which had become corrupted totally), they were collating the best manuscripts which were in use at the time. This is why it is inexcusable to say that Reformation era textual criticism is the same thing as modern textual criticism. Imagine John Calvin saying something like this:

“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…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” (15)

This perspective does not just represent the most liberal views of the New Testament text, it is abundantly present amongst conservative camps as well. This is often justified by loose understandings of Organic Inspiration. This is the Theological reality that underpins  scientific approaches to New Testament textual criticism. Now juxtapose the above statement with this quote from John Owen’s The Divine Original. 

“That the laws they made known, the doctrines they delivered, the instructions they gave, the stories they recorded, the promises of Christ, the prophecies of gospel times they gave out and revealed, were not their own, not conceived in their minds, not formed by their reasonings, not retained in their memories from what they heard, not by any means beforehand comprehended by them, (1 Pet. 1:10, 11,) but were all of them immediately from God—there being only a passive concurrence of their rational faculties in their reception, without any such active obedience as by any law they might be obliged unto”

Despite well-intentioned Christian scholars and apologists, there is not a single empirical refutation that can stand against the reality that the original text cannot be found by using scientific methods. One might be bold enough to take a stand on every variant unit in the corpus of the modern critical text, but they will be met by an overwhelming amount of scholars who reject the readings they have chosen by utilizing the same exact methodology. In fact, this is the reason many have rejected the Tyndale House Greek New Testament. Ultimately, even the most conservative Christians in the reasoned eclectic camp must pad their conclusions with “probably”, “might be”, and “could be”. 

To demonstrate this point, see these quotations from Dirk Jongkind’s An Introduction to the Greek New Testament

“I have no problems with the notion that God has preserved his Word. On the contrary, I believe he did. But I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us, even though he granted us good access to the text of the New Testament” (90).

“To say that God inspired the words of the New Testament does not mean that God is therefore under an obligation to preserve for us each detail” (23).

Notice that in one breath, Jongkind affirms preservation, and in the next rejects that it has been preserved totally. Scripture has been preserved, just not in every place. It would be more transparent for those who hold to this position to say that “God has preserved most of His Word”. When this theology is applied to the actual text of Scripture, it just aligns with the same exact perspective as those that believe the Word of God is a human product that cannot and has not ever been preserved in its original form. This is because the places where God has not totally preserved His Word just so happen to be the same places that the secular scholarship agrees cannot be determined with absolute certainty. Despite the well meaning efforts of believing textual scholars to hold onto an orthodox view of preservation, they have had to change the meaning of preservation entirely in order to have an empirical argument. Jongkind admits as much that that is what he, and like minded Christians, are doing when they engage in textual criticism.

Therefore, Textus Receptus proponents avoid the historical question, “Is this the text backed up by the best historical evidence? By answering the following theological question in the affirmative: Is this the text given to us by God? (89)

Well-intentioned Christians have to denigrate and attack another Christian position that actually believes in a finished product of God’s Word in order to justify their theological position that the Word of God has only been preserved in parts. If they can demonstrate that there is not a single form of God’s Word that has been preserved, they can justify the work that is being done today. The modern critical position is only appealing when the other positions are mocked, shamed, or otherwise discredited. 

The problem with statements like these, which seem scientific and logical, is that they do not carry the weight that they seem to carry. In the question, “Is the text backed up by the best historical evidence?” there is a monumental assumption that the modern text is backed up by historical evidence. Yet even the evidence that is produced for the various forms of the modern text, the very same scholars who belittle the Textus Receptus admit that their science is not certain or verifiable. This is not a controversial opinion, there is even a symbol in the NA28 apparatus which literally designates when a verse cannot be determined to be original by empirical methods. And in every case where an empirical stand is taken on a textual variant, there is never absolute agreement. At the end of this pursuit, the only thing that has been produced is not a Bible, but bibles. Modern New Testament text critical scholars have not succeeded at the goal of producing a text. 


The historical, orthodox understanding of the doctrine of preservation does not allow for partial preservation, or multiple forms of the New Testament text. The word preservation itself means that something remains in its original state, or has been kept safe from harm or corruption. This word has not shifted in meaning over the years – it means the same thing now as it did when it came into English from the latin. If one is to employ the word “preservation” in discussing the Scriptures, than it means to believe that the Scriptures have been retained in their original form since penned in the first century. That is not to say that every manuscript has, or that one manuscript has, just that upon collation of manuscripts, the original form has been retained. In order to say that the Bible has not been preserved in every detail, than the term “partial preservation” or “substantial preservation” should be employed. It is not transparent to claim to espouse a preservationist doctrine of Scripture while also affirming that the Bible has not been preserved. 

The simple doctrine of preservation is that God preserved His Word, and has kept it pure in all ages. This requires affirming that a final product has been available to the people of God in all ages (though there were times where not every Christian had access to a Bible, this is still the case in many countries). If this is the case, the goal of the Christian should be to see which text has been given to the people of God. At this juncture, there are a handful of options – the modern critical texts, the majority texts, and the Received Text. Within the modern critical texts, there are hundreds of Bibles to choose from. Within the majority texts, there are but a few. And within the Received Text camp, there are a dozen or so, most notably the KJV. In any case, the Christian, especially in America, has the luxury to choose which Bible they read in any format imaginable. Choose a translation that is based off of the most faithful methodology, not one that is the most empirically “consistent”. Remember the words of the famous empiricist text critic, D.C. Parker:

“The text is changing. Every time I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form, but paradoxically we are creating a new one…There is never a final form of the text.”

The views of D.C. Parker are not aberrant from the rest of modern textual criticism. He represents the majority view, either explicitly or implicitly. The theology of partial preservation and a changing text has become the orthodoxy of New Testament text-critical scholarship. This theological foundation is being taught as the only methodology in seminaries and from pulpits. My only hope is that Christians will take the time to consider the implications this has on the doctrines of inspiration and preservation. If the goal is to give Christians confidence that they are reading God’s Word, this modern methodology cannot do that.